China has only ever been to one Fifa Men’s World Cup in two decades which, given its population of 1.3 billion people, could be considered an underachievement. Even in 2002 when they did qualify, they failed to win a match or score a single goal.
Since 2014, President Xi Jinping has made it clear that he wants China to remedy this and establish itself among the global soccer elite by hosting and winning a Fifa World Cup by the year 2050.
Lynk Knowledge Partner Shoto Shu, President, and Founder of OCEANS Marketing sees this as a lofty yet achievable goal.
“China has a large population means that the potential is there to achieve this goal. However, this still only remains a vision”.
The ambitious plan leans heavily on the development of homegrown, local talent through specialized soccer schools. Currently, there are 13,381 publicly run youth football schools dedicated to developing football talent, with 7,000 more to be built by the end of the year. Plans to have 50,000 of these dedicated soccer schools and 70,000 soccer pitches built by 2025 suggests President Xi’s 2050 goal is being taken seriously.
Yet the potential effectiveness of these new academies is up for debate. Shoto suggests that “training soccer players is very different to training for the other sports China has traditionally been good at. Rather than just teaching technique, these coaches need to develop communication skills and teamwork while enhancing the student’s physicality.”
Moreover, these academies rely on stellar coaching to bring the best out of their students. Shoto points out that this may be a dangerous flaw in the system.
“The sheer number of schools means that the standard of coaching can’t be maintained throughout. This will not only harm the development of plays, but may also disrupt the trust that many parents have when sending their children to these schools in the first place.”
While the success of these academies will boost soccer’s popularity, the sport will most likely need domestic superstars to turn President Xi’s dreams into a reality. Premier Chinese athletes like former NBA superstar Yao Ming and tennis legend Li Na famously boosted the popularity of their respective sports, while also acting as role models for generations to come.
The Chinese Super League has been quick to spend money to attract international superstars players like Oscar and Hulk. Although great for establishing initial interest, this spending can lead to severe problems. According to Shoto
“It is obvious they are spending way too much. Based on revenue alone, this approach is not sustainable.”
At some point, the league will have to double down on and show faith in its homegrown talent. Without this, the next generation will lack the hometown heroes needed to lead the charge for World Cup glory by 2050.
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