You have probably heard that Chinese football clubs are spending a lot of money to bring foreign players and coaches to China, while constantly upgrading their infrastructure and training facilities in the last few years – especially after 2014. For example, 33-year old Argentinean national, Carlos Tevez, is the highest paid player with an annual salary of 37.5 million Euros – better paid than the world’s best players Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Even the great coaching experts were attracted to that new and unknown territory, with former head coach of Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari, leading the list of renowned coaches in China – along with Andre Villas-Boas, Manuel Pellegrini, Felix Magath and others. Since the 2014, Chinese investors have purchased the stakes in over 15 famous European football clubs; including Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Inter Milan, AC Milan and many others.

Picture: Highest paid players in China in 2017

In order to learn more about football in China and present our products in Chinese market we have visited two conferences in China: China Football Summit in Guangzhou and World Soccer Convention & Exhibition in Beijing. Coaches are very systematical and organized, and they do the video analysis not only of games, but also they analyse training sessions. We have shown them tailor-made team management solution and Video Analyser product.

While you are reading this article, please have in mind that China has a population around 1.3 billion people and it is the second largest economy by nominal GDP in the world. Chinese are hard working people (few interesting facts from locals; they have only 5 days of holidays in a year, working 8-10 hours a day, and in most cases they work on Sundays). Education is the most important thing for them and they want to provide the best education for their kids.

Once China football summitPicture: China Football Summit 2017 panel

China Football Summit 2017 was an event focusing only on the development and outlook of the Chinese football industry, which brought respected speakers such as Liu Yongzhuo (Vice President of Evergrande Holdings, China’s second largest property developers and owners of Guangzhou Evergrande F.C.), Liu Jiangan (President of Evergrande Football School), Mads Davidsen (Technical Director at Shanghai SIPG F.C.) and other speakers active in development of football in China. In Beijing we have visited another convention about rapidly growing Chinese football industry; combining technology innovations, collaboration of global and regional soccer associations and development of youth program – into a sustainable ecosystem for Chinese football. Convention included presentations from notable speakers such as Mark Sutcliffe (CEO of The Hong Kong Football Association), Greg Griffin (chairman of FC Adelaide United), Jan Olde Riekerink (former head coach of SK Galatasaray) and other interesting speakers.

Picture: Dinner with some participants

The People’s Republic of China, which is the world’s most populous country with a population over 1.3 billion people, is considered one of the world’s fastest growing economies. But even such large country didn’t fully acknowledge football until 2014, and the decision of the State Council to direct the development and promotion of the sports industry from 300 billion to 5 trillion RMB (Chinese Yuan). Until that revolutionary 2014, football in China was practically nonexistent, without the interest from media, government and the public. In years before 2014 domestic league was even without official sponsors (in 2005 Siemens withdrew its sponsorship due to lack of confidence), and shaken by the scandals which kept other sponsors on the sidelines (in 2012, 59 football officials were sentenced to jail because of illegal betting and match-fixing). Developing the strong domestic competition was the main focus of the State Council’s decision, so big expenditures were made to attract foreign players – to make the league more attractive to spectators and media. As the result of that development, over 245 million Euros are spent annually, just on the wages of the top 20 highest earning footballers in China – all foreign nationals. Acquisitions of foreign superstars and coaches brought people to the stadiums, so the result was the sky high sale of media rights fees for CSL (Chinese Super League) seasons 2016-2020, which included 1.6 billion RMB (200 million EUR) per season – for comparison, media rights for the 2012 season were sold for only 7.3 million RMB (1 million EUR) – 200 times less.

But investing in domestic league is just a first step; the next one is creating a respectable national team. That job the Chinese entrusted to another foreign coach, 2006 FIFA World Cup winner, Italian Marcelo Lippi – hoping to carry forward his coaching philosophy to Chinese players. Another step for China to become a football nation is future investments in youth programs, sports facilities and basically connecting youth to football.

Once: Meeting with Harold Mayne-Nicholls S.Picture: Meeting with Harold Mayne-Nicholls S. (ex President of Chile Football Federation, interesting fact is that his grandfather was from Croatia)

During our visit we encountered the best result of those investments – Evergrande Football School. Property developers and the owners of six time reigning champion F.C. Guangzhou Evergrande, Evergrande Group, opened a football school in 2012 – which soon became the world’s largest football school. The Real Madrid Foundation and 24 Spanish coaches, with the help of over hundred local coaches and faculty members, are in charge of professional football training for over 2500 kids. Those kids were scouted and brought from all around China, to attend elementary, junior high and high school along with professional training. The facilities related to football training are of the world’s top standard, with world’s largest football training field (containing 50 football fields), stadium, laboratory building and auditorium. As the school contains dormitories for students, coaches and teachers, along with supermarkets, restaurants and entertainment centers – those kids have the perfect conditions for training and living.

Picture: In front of Evergrande Football School

The conclusion of the trip to China would be that even though the Chinese have an ideal conditions to become a “football giant”, with all the financial backing and a support of the government (primarily president Xi Jinping, who is a big football fan himself), there are still a lot of challenges. Chinese government has a big plan for their football industry, as they plan to become a “football powerhouse” by 2050 – by which they expect to host a World Cup and possibly even become a world champions. Other plans include opening 20,000 specialist soccer schools, building 70,000 football pitches all around the country, and having between 30 and 50 million students regularly playing the game in the next three years. According to Dutch coach Riekerink, one of the speakers in Beijing, Chinese players have the same physical predispositions as the European players.

Picture: Watching training session in Evergrande Fooball School

The biggest challenges for them are the lack of football culture and implementation of the tactical side of the game into young minds, which cannot be achieved financially – but only with time and a lot of training. From the beginning coaches should focus on developing a player, mentally and physically, throughout his childhood and adolescence – not expecting results immediately. Combining European coaches with young Chinese players, while educating local coaches, is the best way to overcome that challenge.