The Chinese soccer stars who hope to bring Olympic glory to a country reeling from the disaster of elimination from the 2006 World Cup are heading to Germany to begin a two-year training course.
China hopes the soccer stars of the future will learn to win in Germany
If you believe some doom-mongers, China’s humiliating exit from the 2006 World Cup qualifiers in November has set the progress of the game in the People’s Republic back by almost four decades. China may be down and out in one sense, but the future is far from the grim picture painted by some critics.
In a bid to rebuild China's beleaguered national soccer team, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) is sending a specially assembled group called the 2008 Star Team, consisting of 27 young and promising Chinese soccer players, to Germany to improve its fortunes.
The CFA is hoping that training and playing with the Germans can provide the inspiration to build a highly organized, diligent, mighty soccer force.
The young players of the Star Team, aged between 15 and 19, will arrive on Dec. 8 to begin two years of training at the Bad Kissingen training center in southern Germany, a complex known for its advanced sports training and recuperation facilities.
The Chinese players will also get the chance to experience some South American skills when they spend three to four months in Argentina competing against youth squads attached to top teams such as Rio Plate.
Training course a long term basis
"We chose Bad Kissingen because Germany is a giant in the game and we want to use their knowledge as a long-term training basis for China's football," said Nan Yong, vice president of the CFA, in an interview with the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper. "We want to build an exchange platform with Europe's top football nations in terms of youth training, coaching and team training," Nan added.
The Star Team will be coached by veteran professional coach Eckhard Krautzun, who has led clubs in the US, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. Krautzen will be assisted by three Chinese coaches who are traveling with the young players, a German stamina coach and a goalkeeping trainer.
German coach sees bright future
"I had coaching experience with competitions at club, national and international levels. I have attended the coaching courses in German and Spain," said Krautzun in the People’s Daily. "I should thank the China's Football Association for giving me such a chance, and I believe the team will show a great improvement in the following years."
There will be little time for the young Chinese stars to get used to their new surroundings before they are required to show what they are made of. The Star Team faces an official match every week and international matches every month as part of their training, and the team will face the German Under-19 team in a friendly on Dec. 18 in Stuttgart.
"I will send two players to each German Bundesliga club. The clubs told me that they are willing to have Chinese players to train with them," said Krautzun. "We will play matches all over Europe and make sure they get used to different styles and levels of football."
Education goes hand-in-hand with soccer skills
The Chinese stars will have to learn German and English as well as football skills.
As well as experiencing European and South American soccer matches and training schedules, the Chinese players will also be expected to excel in their off-pitch education, an idea well received by the CFA. Chinese professional footballers have found themselves under fire at times for their lack of literacy and education, leading to questionable behavior on and off the pitch.
"We will have education in Germany. You can not develop mentally if you just play football from morning to evening. Without the mental capability, they will not know how to win matches in the future," said Krautzun. "(The players) will attend English and German classes regularly and lectures to develop their psychological and mental ability."
Chinese soccer in crisis
The failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, ironically being staged in the Star Team’s temporary home country, has compounded the problems that Chinese soccer has experienced of late. Allegations of biased refereeing, match-fixing and player walk-offs have sent the nation's football league spiraling into chaos in recent months.
China beat Hong Kong convincingly but the goal difference wasn't enough to see them through in the World Cup qualifiers.
It is hoped that the players who hone their skills in Germany will form the core of the 2008 Olympic team and that they will bring honor and glory back to the Chinese game.
To dig out more potential players, scouting will continue throughout the two-year course and both Chinese officials and coaches appear optimistic that the result will be a good display in 2008. "There should be and must be an aim for Chinese football to win a medal at the 2008 Olympics on home soil," Krautzun said.