China’s Attempts at Cultivating A Football Culture Might Fail
Honk Kng(AFP)- China are hoping to cultivate a generation of football stars by setting up thousands of football academies all around the country, but experts question the project, and are concerned that it may be a waste of time.
A nation as populous as China can be a goldmine of talented players, hence, President Xi Jinping’s orders set about shedding decades worth of underachievement and turn the nation into a football superpower.
The official plan offers around 20,000 facilities, with the hopes of qualifying for the 2020 World Cup- a tournament which China has managed to qualify for, only once.
China’s facilities already include Guangzhou’s Evergrande Football School, the world’s largest with more than 2,000 students, while Hainan’s Mission Hills golf complex is building a centre for more than 1,000 children.
This flurry of activity is based on the assumption that drilling millions of children in their passing, shooting and ball-control is sure to throw up some world-beaters.
But some believe the academy model is fundamentally flawed.
Tom Byer, a Japan-based coaching guru hired by China to film daily training slots to be beamed into classrooms nationwide, shook his head when he was asked about the obsession with academies.
“They’ve got the ladder up the wrong wall,” he said, at last month’s LeSports Connects sports business forum in Dongguan, in southern China.
“This is literally of epidemic proportions — everybody thinks that’s the way you do it”
Byer said countries around the world, including the United States, Australia and India, had also invested in academies, but that the centres had produced few top players.
“We have countries literally spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to unlock the mystery of development,” he said.
“It’s a phenomenon that they have all of these academies, they have professional clubs, they throw everything but the kitchen sink at development.
“And where are the players?”
Byer’s argument is that learning to control a football properly is so difficult that it must be learned from a very young age, about two years onwards.
Children have to practise for hours, often alone, with the emphasis on close control and ball-manipulation, rather than kicking the ball away and running after it.
Rather than being honed in academies, South American superstars like Lionel Messi and Neymar learned their skills at home and on the streets, and received scant coaching in childhood, Byer said.