Alibaba´s purchase of Guangdong´s Evergrande has put football again on the agenda. Football expert Rowan Simons tells the Economist China´s football needs to spend more on its youth in stead of buying foreign players and coaches. Evergrande did so already.
Rowan Simons, the author of “Bamboo Goalposts”, believes Chinese football would benefit more if the money shelled out for foreign coaches and players was spent on helping young Chinese players get really good. Evergrande has already made a big investment in this area. The club has built an enormous football academy in the southern province of Guangdong that students compare to Hogwarts, the school in the Harry Potter novels. With 2,300 students and 50 football pitches, it is China’s largest such institution, and perhaps the biggest in the world.
When the school opened in 2012 Xu Jiayin, the billionaire head of Evergrande, said, “Our long-term strategy is to use teenagers to turn Evergrande into a team of only domestic players in eight to ten years, making them stars in China, Asia and the world.” At least one other club has followed Evergrande’s lead, opening up a smaller school. Others are likely to do so if the academies are a success. The CFA has also hired Mr Beckham to promote the game to children and sell Chinese football to the rest of the world. Until the sport finds its version of Mr Yao, he’ll have to do.
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