Fri, Mar 15, 2019 - Page 16 News List

‘Fake’ coaches, fixers undermine China’s soccer goals


Boys take part in a training session at a soccer club in Beijing on Dec. 14, 2016.

Photo: AFP

Rapacious intermediaries and coaches with forged or few qualifications are trying their luck in China’s fast-growing grassroots soccer, imperiling its ambitions to become a major force in the sport, insiders said.

At the behest of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is throwing resources at the game.

Central to that is getting more youngsters to play at schools, clubs and academies. The Chinese Ministry of Education plans to have 50,000 schools “characterized by soccer” by 2025.

However, five people involved in youth soccer told reporters that they had encountered coaches with counterfeit certificates.

Just being from overseas was sometimes enough to get work, many involved in the scene said, as so-called coaches rush for a share of the money.

Former international forward Xie Hui, now an assistant coach at Chinese Super League (CSL) champions Shanghai SIPG, said there was “a huge problem” with youth coaching.

“Even if you give them Wu Lei, they will erase [his talent], that’s the reality,” the 44-year-old said, referring to the Chinese forward who left SIPG for Spain’s RCD Espanyol.

“Nothing has [improved] in 20 years because there is no building [effective structure]. It’s almost a desert of youth football education,” he added.

Beijing is pouring money into youth soccer, but Xie said it was often going to waste. He alleged that some schools were even making up results without playing matches.

One well-qualified coach who asked not to be identified said there was a “free-for-all” and bemoaned how unscrupulous coaches were giving the rest a bad name.

Mario Castro, who holds a UEFA B license from the Portuguese Football Federation, paints a similarly bleak picture.

“We have three huge problems in China: the fake coach, the unqualified coach and the coach without knowledge,” said Castro, who has worked in China since 2016 and is technical director at a Shenzhen-based tie-up with Toulouse.

“In the small cities the academy or company needs a foreign face, even if the coach doesn’t have a degree or UEFA certification,” he said. “In the big cities there is a huge market in part-time coaching and most of the coaches don’t have a certificate to be a coach or work with children because it is very difficult to find a real coach to work only a few hours per week.”

The Chinese Football Association declined to comment on the situation, but last month it issued a set of rules in an effort to regulate the chaotic coaching market — a tacit admission that a problem exists.

Tom Byer, a renowned coach with vast experience of grassroots soccer in several countries, said that the problem of ill-equipped coaches was not unique to China.

The American who has worked with Chinese education authorities said that he had never come across a “fake” coach.

“But I can imagine there are some charlatans out there,” he said, adding that the profession was blighted by various “scams.”

Among those, according to several figures in the sport, are intermediaries given money by local authorities to find foreign coaches for schools, only to keep as much as half of it and pay the coach the rest.

The greatly diminished wage means that experienced or well-qualified coaches often do not travel to China.

“China is under a different level of scrutiny these days because of the amount of money being spent at the very high end,” Byer said, referring to CSL clubs. “There are plenty of other countries that don’t have enough qualified coaches at the grassroots level, but there’s lots to criticize around the world when it comes to grassroots development and money.”

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