Think soccer be­yond the money and glamour

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

In re­cent weeks the global me­dia have been in­vaded by news or just ru­mors about Chi­nese bil­lion­aires buy­ing con­trol­ling stakes in Euro­pean soccer clubs and ac­quir­ing top Euro­pean play­ers to play in the Chi­nese Super League.

The lat­est sup­posed deal is about buy­ing the ma­jor­ity stake in A.C. Mi­lan, one of the most pres­ti­gious and suc­cess­ful Euro­pean clubs, by Chi­nese in­vestors. This fol­lows the ac­qui­si­tion of about 70 per­cent shares of In­ter Mi­lan, an­other lead­ing Euro­pean club by theNan­jing-based Sun­ing Hold­ing Group. Ac­cord­ing to some data, since last year Chi­nese com­pa­nies have in­vested more than $1.7 bil­lion in sports, the ma­jor­ity of it in soccer.

For Euro­peans, this sud­den and big ap­petite of Chi­nese in­vestors for soccer busi­ness has not come as a big sur­prise be­cause huge Chi­nese in­vest­ments have al­ready flowed into other sec­tors. But soccer is dif­fer­ent from tech­nol­ogy, fash­ion brands or com­pany as­sets. It is part of cul­ture, tra­di­tion and ed­u­ca­tion where short­cuts are not al­lowed.

This year, dur­ingmy fre­quent stays in China, I de­cided for the first time to watch some Chi­nese Super League matches. I have to con­fess that some­times I got bored and had the strong de­sire to leave the sta­dium be­fore the games ended. Lower tech­ni­cal lev­els, poor pos­ses­sion skills and weaker physique of the play­ers, or the in­ex­pe­ri­ence of the coaches can­not fully ex­plain the dis­ap­point­ment of so many Chi­nese soccer fans.

“Kick ev­ery­thing with one leg” is a suit­able Chi­nese ex­pres­sion. It means one per­son do­ing ev­ery­thing by one­self, from the small­est to the big­gest task.

The ball in soccer games, like re­la­tions with clients in busi­nesses or shar­ing in­for­ma­tion in so­cial life, is pri­mar­ily used to score goals. If you pass the ball to oth­ers, you can miss an op­por­tu­nity to score a goal. And this is where the fault lies.

Chi­nese cul­ture is grad­u­ally be­com­ing less col­lec­tivis­tic due mainly to the se­vere so­cial com­pe­ti­tion in many as­pects of daily life, from get­ting chil­dren ad­mit­ted to “good” schools to gain­ing a hukou (house­hold reg­is­tra­tion) in a city. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, teach­ers and par­ents fo­cus on in­di­vid­ual growth to pre­pare stu­dents to win com­pe­ti­tions and gain per­sonal cred­its. The skills and talent needed to work or play in a team are over­looked; in fact, they are con­sid­ered out­dated traits that cre­ate ob­sta­cles for per­sonal suc­cess.

Many Euro­pean and even more so South Amer­i­can chil­dren start play­ing soccer just for fun and with pas­sion and not for money or fame. I have seen a lot of Chi­nese soccer play­ers with great in­di­vid­ual abil­i­ties but to be an ex­cel­lent team player one has to be dif­fer­ent and re­quires some­thing more. Soccer is about shar­ing, of learn­ing to work and in­ter­act with oth­ers, and of for­get­ting about per­sonal ben­e­fits. The best play­ers are those who al­ways know where their team­mates are on the field and can “feel” what they are going to do next with the ball. Team­work is a kind of chem­istry, which we can­not sim­ply buy. If China re­ally wants to be a global soccer power, it should de­vote the largest re­sources and ef­forts to a news­port ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram that catches ’em young (starts with young chil­dren) rather than pay­ing huge sums to im­port de­mo­ti­vated for­eign play­ers or making ex­pen­sive in­vest­ments in trou­bled for­eign clubs. Qual­i­fied and mod­ern coaches should ed­u­cate chil­dren and par­ents that soccer be­fore be­ing a busi­ness is a sport that re­quires sac­ri­fice, mu­tual re­spect, hon­esty, co­op­er­a­tion, pa­tience, skill and cre­ativ­ity, and of­fers joy, in­di­vid­ual growth and progress. In par­tic­u­lar, Chi­nese chil­dren and play­ers should learn that in the end, it is not so im­por­tant who scores the goal and in a global com­pe­ti­tion a team can never win if a player self­ishly keeps the ball with­out pass­ing it. Soccer is sim­i­lar to life and busi­ness: if you don’t give, you don’t get. The au­thor is CEO of HG Europe and hon­orary pro­fes­sor atHeng­dian Col­lege of Film and Tele­vi­sion.

LI MIN / CHINA DAILY

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