JUST FOR KICKS

Chi­nese soc­cer play­ers go to Brazil for skills train­ing

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Front Page - By JI YE in Rio De Janeiro For China Daily Con­tact the writer at read­ers@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

NEL­SON ALMEIDA / AFP

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

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