Training camp for youngsters
Uproar over Chinese FA’s meddling
Chinese football again mired itself in controversy after the FA commandeered 55 players aged 25 and under from their clubs for a two-month military training camp, just as the domestic league entered its most critical phase.
The bizarre development in October abruptly relieved over a dozen sides of some of their most important players, with several of the affected teams in the midst of Chinese Super League (CSL) championship and relegation battles.
The call-ups included Beijing Guo’an forward Wei Shihao and midfielder Liao Lisheng of Guangzhou Evergrande, who are both full internationals.
Relegation-threatened Chongqing Lifan lost centre-half Luo Hao, while Shandong Luneng were the biggest victims, being shorn of six players ahead of the Chinese FA Cup Final against Guo’an.
Leading the camp is veteran Shen Xiangfu, who has coached a host of CSL teams including Beijing Guo’an and Shanghai Shenhua. The 61-year-old Beijinger is wellrespected if unspectacular, with his sides noted for their conservative and uninspiring football. The appointment of such a relative unknown for the role came as a surprise considering big names Marcello Lippi and Guus Hiddink are in charge of the national and under-21 sides respectively.
The purloining of so many players at the business end of the season was met with universal outcry. “October 2 is the day Chinese football died,” was a common refrain on social media as fans lamented the impact on the domestic league and blamed the “chaotic” Chinese FA (CFA) for compromising sporting integrity.
“We’re a fifth of the way through the 21st century but we still have these moronic policies,” complained one supporter of the national team.
Other reactions questioned how making players take part in a training camp of any kind was more beneficial than first-team football.
Local media were uncharacteristically outspoken in their opposition to the decision. A report in the Jinan
Times quoted FIFA regulations which state clubs are not obliged to release players for national service outside designated international breaks and asked why any Chinese club would have done so voluntarily.
Other reports claimed clubs were still expected to pay the wages of the called-up players, who in turn were in breach of contract for not turning up to training for their clubs.
The most significant dissent came in a social media post from Beijing Guo’an chairman Zhou Jinhui, who opined: “The vast majority of people in Chinese football recognise that the root of the sport’s problems lie in its management structure.” He also stressed the need for the “natural law of football development” to be respected.
In the hierarchical world of Chinese football, where deference to authority is expected and open criticism is taboo, Zhou’s remarks were significant and indicated that the move had not come without significant opposition from some powerful quarters. The Chinese
“October 2 is the day Chinese football died” Supporters on social media
FA is currently without a chairman following the departure of former table tennis world champion Cai Zhenhua who entered office in 2014.
Indeed, news outlet Titan Sports carried a report quoting a source in the CFA stating that the decision to arrange the training camp had come directly from the General Administration of Sport – a government body which oversees the CFA. This prompted many observers to call for the CFA to be suspended by FIFA due to government interference.
FIFA could hardly turn a blind eye as the event happened right under its nose, with deputy secretary general Zvonimir Boban in Beijing for a two-day workshop as the controversy blew up. However, it all turned out to be business as usual. A grinning Boban was pictured shaking hands with Chinese football dignitaries and a report in the state mouthpiece, the
China Daily, omitted any mention of the 55-man training camp, instead focusing on an exchange of platitudes between the Croatian and Du Zhaocai, secretary of the CFA’s Party committee.
Aside from gripes on the timing and usefulness of the exercise, images emanating from the camp, once it got underway, were greeted with alarm in Chinese football circles.
In peculiar scenes that were more reminiscent of a Vietnam war movie than of professional football, players were pictured wearing army fatigues and having their heads shaved. The recruits were also snapped taking part in various drills and fitness exercises with no football paraphernalia anywhere in sight.
Speculation is mounting that the CFA plans to divide the 55-man squad into two and have one team play in the Chinese Super League and another in the second-tier China League One in an attempt to prepare a new generation of players to support China’s bid to quality for Qatar 2022.
However, most of those inside Chinese football agree this would be counter productive and ruin the leagues concerned.
No decision has been made yet and the CFA are said to be exploring other options, with the teams playing in an East European league thought to be a favoured option.
Big name... under-21 coach Guus Hiddink
Veteran...Shen Xiangfu is in charge of the training camp
camp call-up...Wei shihao (in yellow)