Opinion / Blog

Football should do it the football way

By Tania_Sole ( Updated: 2015-04-14 16:15

Once more senior Chinese officials have decided that the nation must invest in its youth football programs and help build the sport and a national team that can rise in the international FIFA rankings. Currently China is ranked 82nd in the world with a lifetime average of 71st. The highest ranking it has achieved in the last 20 years is 37th. The worst is 100th. 

With a population of 1.35 billion, you would think China would certainly have a good pool of candidates to draw from. In comparison, this year’s number one country Germany has just over 82 million people. Last year’s number one Spain has almost 47 million people. Not to mention Uruguay a consistent top 10 country with a population count of just over 3 million.

So if the issue isn’t numbers but geographical location, the country outside of Europe and Latin America that is currently ranked the highest is Algeria at 21, the next non-European or Latin American country is Ivory Coast at 23. The highest ranked country in Asia is Iran at number 40 followed by Japan at number 50.    

The reality is that it takes about 10 years to make a football player and that is assuming that they start playing around age seven.  If they start playing football at age three then you will probably have to wait closer to fifteen years. Regardless, the fact is that the strength of a country’s team is really dependent on its youth funnel as well as the opportunities those youth are given to transition into and become active players in the professional teams. Even England has finally realized that they can’t let all the top teams in the Premier league fill up with foreign players or their own players will not have a chance to develop. Giving players that have grown up in the system like Harry Kane a chance is critical. 

China can set some realistic goals like moving up to the top of the Asian Federation and doing well in the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. For so many reasons the World Cup in Qatar is a good target to strive for, including the fact that World Cups in Europe or Latin America tend to be won by local continental teams.

To succeed however, China will need to do it the football way. Three years ago I traveled to the outskirts of Beijing to meet a Chinese coach who thought he had come up with a revolutionary new Chinese way to teach football and in particular how to score. I tried to tell him that his system wouldn' t work but my message fell on deaf ears. 

Chinese people love to tell foreigners that when in China things must be done the Chinese way. Having grown up with the saying when in Rome do as the Romans do, I understand. However, I grew up in Latin America and Europe and now live in the United States. I have watched the United States also think that they can do things the American way and succeed. In a lot of areas this might even work, but unfortunately in football it doesn’t. 

In the United States one of the biggest problems is players are developed through the youth system and then when they turn 18 they are dropped off a cliff and don’t have anywhere really to go unless they have the education and resources to go to college. The best get lost and don’t make the transition; the ones who do generally aren’t the best. The result is that you have a country of 320 million inhabitants who although it made it up to number eight in 2005 now finds itself back in 27th place.

China has a choice: It can emulate the United States and do things its own way or it can save time and in football do things the football way.

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