Many are scratching their heads about how to promote Chinese football to the world.
For some, the answer is developing young players who are good enough to help Chinese clubs reach a higher standard. From there, they could eventually win the Asian Champions League.
Gradually, the country could go on to produce players capable of competing in the world’s best leagues. Then, perhaps, the national team could qualify for the World Cup on a regular basis.
To actually achieve all this, however, China’s football stakeholders and teams must invest significant time, money and effort at the grassroots level. Even then, it could take many years.
The good news is that this process has now begun. There is a large-scale training program underway at schools around the country, launched by the Chinese Football Association and Education Ministry and overseen by Tom Byer, an American former professional footballer. Byer is a leading expert in youth development with years of experience in Japan, where he was a television celebrity known as “Tom-san” and helped lift the profile of Japanese football.
Or, another approach: You could hire David Beckham to act as national football ambassador. The world-famous athlete, who has played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy, AC Milan and, most recently, Paris St Germain, recently said in a statement released by IMG: “I am honored to have been asked to play such an important role at this special time in Chinese football history.”
Beckham added: “I’m excited by the prospect of promoting the world’s greatest game to Chinese sports fans as I’ve seen firsthand the growing interest in football there. This is a wonderful sport that inspires people across the world and brings families together, so I’m relishing the opportunity of introducing more fans to the game.”
The move is quite a PR push for the Chinese Super League, which made headlines last year when Shanghai Shenhua paid big money to sign English Premier League stars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.
The buzz was short lived, however, when Shanghai Shenhua’s unpredictable CEO Zhu Jun, an online gaming tycoon, had a spat with the club’s shareholders. Chaos ensued and Drogba and Anelka were not paid as agreed. They soon returned to Europe.
In an attempt to turn things around, the Chinese Football Association settled on the current course and welcomed the Englishman in a statement.
“His (Beckham’s) arrival will bring international attention to Chinese football and at the same time his personal involvement will be a good way to make Chinese football more international,” it reads.
Despite the hype surrounding Beckham’s new role, some wonder if hiring the megastar is really the right way forward.
An article published in the People’s Daily Online argues, “While spending loads of money hiring international stars like Beckham, the CSL should make efforts to improve the quality of its ‘products’.”