No lim­its to learn­ing for ded­i­cated teacher Xin­jiang coach­ing guru has spent 40 years men­tor­ing young play­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

URUMQI, Xin­jiang — China’s grass­roots soc­cer push is still in its in­fancy but one ded­i­cated soul has been res­o­lutely plow­ing that fur­row for the last 41 years in one of the coun­try’s most ru­ral and un­der­de­vel­oped ar­eas.

Ehat Yasin, 66, has made it his life mis­sion to spread the gospel of “the beau­ti­ful game” in Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion since re­tir­ing from play­ing some 40 years ago.

Now, he’s some­thing of an icon in his home city of Tacheng, where the lo­cals sim­ply call him “coach”.

Home to 47 eth­nic groups, Xin­jiang, China’s most north­west­ern re­gion, boasts a great pas­sion for soc­cer, but fos­ter­ing tal­ent there is far from easy.

The area lacks pitches and a pro­fes­sional train­ing sys­tem due to eco­nomic un­der­de­vel­op­ment — but at least the lo­cal kids have Ehat in their cor­ner.

Af­ter be­ing forced to hang up his goal­keep­ing gloves due to nag­ging knee in­juries in 1976, the then 25-year-old chucked a well-paid job in Urumqi, Xin­jiang’s cap­i­tal, to re­turn to Tacheng to set up and man­age a soc­cer school and an am­a­teur team.

Know­ing lit­tle about tac­tics and the­ory, Ehat soon found the go­ing tough.

“I had no idea what data I should be look­ing at when se­lect­ing play­ers for the team, for ex­am­ple,” Ehat re­called.

Un­de­terred, he re­solved to fur­ther his ed­u­ca­tion in sports col­leges.

Over the past the four decades, Ehat has coached youth teams of all ages, but what re­mains un­changed is his Alex Fer­gu­son-es­que motto: “Be strict.”

“They are just play­ful kids, there­fore I must be strict with them dur­ing train­ing and games,” Ehat said.

When tak­ing his teams to com­pe­ti­tions across the coun­try, he has no time for sight­see­ing and al­ways in­sists on an early cur­few in the dorm.

Un­der his strict guid­ance, hun­dreds of youths have gone on to play in var­i­ous leagues across Xin­jiang while Ehat re­mains in Tacheng, where his ser­vices re­main strongly in de­mand.

“We in­vited Ehat to be an ad­viser for our club. His ex­pe­ri­ence is price­less to us,” said the cap­tain of the Tarba­gatay Multi-Eth­nic Unity youth team.

Movie star

At just six years, Ehat’s own play­ing ca­reer was short but sweet.

It kicked off in 1970 when the Xin­jiang sport au­thor­ity se­lected play­ers to build a re­gional team and Ehat rode a bi­cy­cle for 27 kilo­me­ters to take part in the try­outs.

Af­ter mak­ing the squad, he went on to play in sev­eral na­tional com­pe­ti­tions around the coun­try.

“Thanks to soc­cer, I have trav­eled all over China,” Ehat said.

“Back then, trans­porta­tion was poor. It took us a whole week to travel from Xin­jiang to south China’s Guang­dong prov­ince.”

And even when in­jury dealt his ca­reer a cruel blow, Ehat con­tin­ued play­ing — on the sil­ver screen.

In 1980 he was back be­tween the posts, play­ing a goal­keeper for fic­tional Euro­pean side

Score­board

Gold Lion in Come On, Soc­cer, China’s first fea­ture-length movie about the sport.

De­spite the poor in­fra­struc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties, Ehat still misses his “good old days” as a player.

“At that time we were all cov­ered in dirt af­ter train­ing,” he fondly re­called.

The dirt pitch on which they used to play has long since been trans­formed to a lush green sur­face, but what must be passed on “is the spirit of hard work,” he stressed.

And that never ends for Xin­jiang’s ded­i­cated soc­cer guru. Next, he is plan­ning to build a new youth team in Tacheng, which he wants to man­age for at least a year to lay a solid foun­da­tion for the young play­ers.

Then Ehat in­tends to pass the ba­ton on to some­one else as the cy­cle of ed­u­ca­tion con­tin­ues.

The spend­ing by Premier League clubs in the cur­rent trans­fer win­dow is un­sus­tain­able, Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur chair­man Daniel Levy said on Tues­day.

English top-flight teams have splashed out more than $1 bil­lion since the end of last sea­son but Spurs, run­nerup to Chelsea in May, have not yet added to their squad.

“Some of the ac­tiv­ity that is go­ing on at the mo­ment is just im­pos­si­ble for it to be sus­tain­able,” Levy said in New York.

HU HUHU / XIN­HUA

Ehat Yasin, 66 (left) has de­voted most of his life to soc­cer, hop­ing to in­spire new gen­er­a­tions of play­ers in Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

XIN­HUA

Ehat Yasin in­structs a group of young play­ers.

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