Money and coach do not make a soc­cer team

China Daily (Canada) - - VIEWS -

Iam not a big soc­cer fan, and I don’t care much about how the Chi­nese men’s na­tional soc­cer team per­forms. As far as I can re­call, the play­ers have rarely played like men, though their in­comes have reached as­tro­nom­i­cal fig­ures since the Chi­nese pro­fes­sional soc­cer league was es­tab­lished in the early 1990s.

His­tory shows mone­tary in­cen­tives are not a panacea for suc­cess for the na­tional men’s soc­cer team. That is why I can­not un­der­stand the logic be­hind the Chi­nese Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s de­ci­sion last week to hire Mar­cello Lippi as the coach of the Chi­nese team for a jaw-drop­ping €20 mil­lion ($21.76 mil­lion) a year.

The amount sets a record for the money earned by the world’s best coaches for a na­tional team. The top earner, Roy Hodg­son of Eng­land, was paid €5 mil­lion a year, and Ger­many’sWorld Cup win­ning coach Joachim Loew made €3.2 mil­lion. Lippi’s pre­de­ces­sor, Gao Hongbo, who re­signed after China lost 0-2 to Uzbek­istan early this month dur­ing theWorld Cup qual­i­fiers, earned a mea­ger 800,000 yuan ($117,800).

Yes, the 68-year-old Lippi is not a com­mon man. He steered Italy toWorld Cup vic­tory in 2006, and has led Guangzhou Ever­grande to three Su­per League ti­tles in China be­tween 2012 and 2014. But that track record is no guar­an­tee that he will trans­form the na­tional team into at least an Asian pow­er­house to jus­tify his high salary.

With only one point from four matches, the men’s soc­cer team faces mis­sion im­pos­si­ble to qual­ify for the 2018World Cup fi­nals in Rus­sia. The rest of the matches may just be sym­bolic — face-sav­ing oc­ca­sions. And with the na­tional team hav­ing no ma­jor games to play in the com­ing two years, the amount paid to the Ital­ian is any­thing but rea­son­able.

How­ever, this is not the first time a for­eign coach has been of­fered a fat pay­check in the hope that he would use a magic wand to cat­a­pult Team China into the hall of soc­cer fame. In Au­gust 2011, the CFA paid €2.8 mil­lion to for­mer Span­ish and Real Madrid coach Jose An­to­nio Ca­ma­cho to train and guide the Chi­nese team. That amount, al­though mea­ger com­pared with Lippi’s salary, was still dou­ble the to­tal amount the CFA had paid to all for­eign coaches hired for the Chi­nese na­tional soc­cer team.

Ca­ma­cho was praised to the sky for his “leg­endary past”, and high hopes were pinned on his per­ceived abil­ity to trans­form the team overnight — as is the case with Lippi to­day. Yet the Ca­ma­cho-CFA hon­ey­moon lasted less than two years, com­ing to a bit­ter end in 2013 after the Chi­nese team’s hu­mil­i­at­ing 1-5 loss to Thai­land. Ca­ma­cho had noth­ing to lose, though. He was paid €6.45 mil­lion as com­pen­sa­tion for hav­ing his con­tract ter­mi­nated uni­lat­er­ally ahead of sched­ule.

I have no doubt over Ca­ma­cho and Lippi as top-class coaches. But for Chi­nese soc­cer to take off, a lot more needs to be done. To start with, we need more soc­cer play­ers. It is a shame that a coun­try of 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple has only about 10,000 reg­is­tered pro­fes­sional play­ers, as of­fi­cial fig­ures in­di­cate.

We also need to set up more soc­cer schools, build more soc­cer fields and pro­vide more free time for chil­dren to play soc­cer just for fun. With­out grass­roots de­vel­op­ment we will never have our own LionelMessi or Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

All this will take time, but of­fi­cials in charge of the sport refuse to ac­cept that be­cause they want a quick-fix so­lu­tion no mat­ter what the mone­tary cost is.

That ex­plains why of­fi­cials and clubs are ea­ger to squan­der money on fa­mous play­ers and coaches in­stead of tak­ing mea­sures to cul­ti­vate Chi­nese tal­ents from the grass­roots.

A lot of lessons can be learned from the Chi­nese soc­cer team’s his­tory, be­cause his­tory re­peats it­self, first as tragedy, then as farce.

The au­thor is a se­nior writer with China Daily. huangx­i­angyang @chi­nadaily.com.cn

WANG XIAOYING / CHINA DAILY

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