JUST FOR KICKS
Chinese soccer players go to Brazil for skills training
Brazil is on the other side of the Earth. It takes at least 24 hours to fly from China to Brazil. However, a number of Chinese still go to the distant “soccer kingdom” to follow and make their soccer dream come true.
Among them are promising Chinese soccer players, retired veterans and player agents. Though China didn’t get to send a team to this year’s World Cup, there is a bridge between China and Brazil’s soccer.
In October 2012, Chinese soccer player Chen Zhizhao made his debut for the Corinthians, becoming the first Chinese to play in the Brasileirao Serie A. Thanks to that experience, Chen was then called up for China’s national squad and transferred back to Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League.
Following Chen, more and more Chinese soccer players have chosen to be based in the Brazilian soccer league, despite huge differences in language, food and culture between China and Brazil.
Tang Shi, a Chinese soccer player from the Shandong Luneng Soccer School is one of them.
The 17-year-old has recently been offered a long-term contract with Brazilian soccer club Botafogo. Tang caught the eye of Botafogo talent scouts during the Rio de Janeiro club’s under-19 team Asian tour last year, which is known as the “Luneng Weifang” Cup International Youth Football Tournament in China.
“Coming to Brazil is a challenge for me, but it is also a dream come true,” said Tang.
Tang said everyone at the club has been taking care of him and he has been training in a specially designed program.
“This is a traditional club in Brazil. The management in training and living is very advanced and scientific. Brazilian coaches have higher requirements for players in executing tactics,” Tang said.
Brazilian striker Muriqui, who scored a record 13 goals for China’s Guangzhou Evergrande in their last year’s AFC Champions League triumph, won the award of 2013 AFC Foreign Player of the Year.
The successful player was brought to Guangzhou by Kirin Soccer in Brazil. The agent company also led the negotiation and transfer of striker Aloísio and Vagner Love to Shandong Luneng. The close cooperation between the Brazilian company and China’s soccer club is due to its founder, Joseph Lee, a FIFA agent. Soccer is Lee’s biggest interest but choosing soccer as a career is something he hardly imagined before.
Lee came to Brazil from Hong Kong in the 1980s. He took odd jobs to survive, and in his spare time he always played soccer with his colleagues and even participated in the local amateur soccer league.
Lee’s life changed in 1993 when China’s Jianlibao Youth Team came to Brazil to learn soccer skills. The team carried the high hopes of Chinese fans in the 1990s, and after their Brazilian experience, the team produced several former national team members for China, while their manager, Zhu Guanghu, went on to coach the Chinese national team from 2005 to 2007.
However, when the team first arrived in Brazil, it encountered major problems in language, food and even accommodation. As an enthusiastic soccer fans, Lee helped the team, from cooking for them to organizing matches.
Lee has maintained a close relationship with the team since then and gradually changed his career focus to soccer by becoming an FIFA agent and founding Kirin Soccer.
After the highest level of professional soccer in China, commonly known as Jia-A, got underway in 1994, numerous Chinese soccer clubs turned to Lee to seek Brazilian players. Lee said between 1998 and 2005, his company sent 18 to 28 Brazilian players to China every year.
In recent years, Kirin Soccer has grown rapidly by building close relationships on credibility and competence with the most reputable Brazilian, European and Asian clubs. Among the Brazilian players who were signed by Kirin Soccer, there are several that have joined Brazilian teams. Lee also brokered the transfer of Brazilian midfielder Hernanes to Inter Milan.
Though Lee has been in Brazil for many years, he is still concerned about Chinese football.
“Professional football in Asia, especially in China, has moved forward with giant steps in all directions The mission of the Kirin Soccer is to strengthen the partnership between Brazil and China through sport,” said Lee.
Like the Jianlibao Youth Team, the Yunnan Hongta Soccer club of China also sent a youth team to Brazil in 1998, with Sun Xianlu the coach.
The quality of the Brazilian training camp and the dense soccer atmosphere attracted Sun as he decided to stay in Brazil to focus on training Chinese youth.
Sun, the main force of China’s Liaoning province when the team won the national soccer championship 10 times between 1978 and 1993, established a soccer training camp in Brazil. He has been in Brazil for more than ten years.
“Why hasn’t China’s soccer improve since the professional reform 20 years ago? Because there lacks the soccer atmosphere. Only people who really love soccer are interested in investing in and researching on soccer. In Brazil, lots of people love playing soccer, so there is a lot of soccer talent,” said Sun.
In recent years, China’s soccer has been paying more attention to youth training as more and more Chinese clubs seek cooperation with Brazilian clubs in terms of youth development.
At the end of last year, Shandong Luneng launched the youth-development program together with Brazilian club Sao Paulo.
The four- year agreement includes an exchange initiative allowing the Chinese Super League club’s best youngsters to train in Brazil. Sao Paulo will in turn explore commercial opportunities in China and gain access to the new player market.
The program, to be led by former Sao Paulo first-team manager Sergio Baresi, began early this year. Baresi is based at Shandong Luneng’s headquarters in the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, alongside Sinclair Dantas de Freitas Garcia (physical trainer), Luis Henrique Orlando (goalkeeping coach) and Bruno Happy (physiotherapist).
The group takes charge of Shandong Luneng’s under-20 side and coordinates the club’s entire youth program. A selection of Chinese youngsters will also be chosen to train with Sao Paulo’s youth teams at the Brazilian club’s Cotia football academy.
Corinthians’ Chinese football player Chen Zhizhao (right) controls the ball during the championship football match against Paulista held at Jayme Cintra stadium in Brazil in January, 2013.
Joseph Lee, founder of Kirin Soccer