Shooting for success
Updated: 2015-10-16 08:15
By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily Europe)
David Beckham takes a free kick at a Beijing high school in 2013.
And this connection has become increasingly important since the Chinese government launched a comprehensive reform of the domestic sport from the bottom up.
Few players can testify to the lessons Chinese soccer can learn from leagues in England and Scotland as well as Fan Zhiyi. The former centerback, who featured for China at the 2002 World Cup, the nation's only appearance in the finals, played 88 games for Crystal Palace between 1998 and 2001 and also had spells with Dundee and Cardiff City.
"The advanced training methods and professional support, as well as the youth team setup, really opened our eyes back then," says Fan, who is now passing on his experience as the youth program director with Shanghai Shenhua FC.
During his time in Britain, fellow countrymen Sun Jihai and Li Tie also signed for Manchester City and Everton, respectively. Sun, now with Chongqing Lifan in the Chinese Super League, signed for the Blues for 2 million pounds ($3 million; 2.7 million euros) and in 2002 was the first Chinese player to score a Premier League goal. Fan says the experience they gained at British clubs benefited their careers and the Chinese national team. Zheng Zhi, the current China captain, also played for Charlton Athletic and Celtic in the late 2000s.
However, in recent years more Chinese have headed to British universities to learn the game and the industry as a whole than have signed lucrative club contracts. The University of Liverpool's soccer industrials MBA has attracted many applicants from China who want to learn from the home of modern soccer. The 12-month program, which since 1997 has been run jointly by the university's school of management, the Football Association and Liverpool FC, offers practical curricula and internship opportunities. So far, it is the only one of its kind in the world and since the early 2000s has enrolled 40 Chinese students, says Geoff Pearson, the director of studies.
"We've always had good levels of applicants from China, even though some didn't have a football background," he says. "Our geographical location opens up opportunities. We link up with Liverpool, Wigan Athletic and Manchester City for practical parts of the course."
The internships allow students to get involved in every aspect of a club's operations, from public relations to player management, he adds.
Qiu Xiaojie, who graduated from the program in 2006 and now works with Nike's soccer division, says: "The wide range of practical management courses and vocational training from top executives at Premier League clubs benefited me greatly and opened my eyes."
Stars from the British game have also been making the trip to China. For example, former Chelsea strikers Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and Demba Ba have all featured for Shanghai Shenhua FC, the latter signing for a record 11 million pounds in the summer. What has made a bigger impact, though, has been the work off the pitch.
Beckham has visited China several times as part of promotions targeted at youth players, either leading training sessions or attending events to raise funds for junior leagues. He also accepted a one-year role in 2013 to act as an ambassador for the Chinese FA's youth program and the Chinese Super League.