Train­ing camp for young­sters

Up­roar over Chi­nese FA’s med­dling

World Soccer - - World Service - CAMERON WIL­SON

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)

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