Mads Davidsen is a Danish Coach who holds the UEFA Pro License. Mads is currently a 1st Team Coach/Analyst and Head Coach of U23 at Shanghai SIPG F.C where he works alongside Sven-Goran Eriksson. We asked Mads to give Player Development Project an insight into the football boom currently happening in China and whether he believes they could in fact be the next football powerhouse?
For the last 4 years I have worked in China. It is a time of massive improvements, heavy investment and a political willingness to become the next global football powerhouse.
The future looks bright for Chinese football. The president has put his name and identity into the sport, which has been a game changer in a country like China where politics and sports are closely connected.
The investments are not only from the government, but also from private companies, who buy and run the football clubs in China investing heavily to improve the standard of the coaches, environment and players. So, it’s a balanced mix of investment from the state and private sector, which makes the model more sustainable to for the future.
The key is also to understand the benefits of the investments – bringing top foreign coaches and top European, African and South American players to China. A top coach will bring not only know-how, but also specialists around him who will add small, but important details to the setup and environment around the players. The clubs will now have physiotherapists and doctors with a CV from Chelsea FC or Juventus. These details and the experience of the people involved will be huge contributors massive contribution to China’s dream of football dominance
The top foreign players bring another dimension to the training ground and will lift the intensity, tempo and game understanding. For the Chinese players these experienced and talented imports will be role models, helping to teach the younger Chinese talent what it takes to reach the top level as well.
Furthermore, the Chinese Super League has improved so much in recent years that a Chinese club now has won the Asian Champions League (ACL) twice and four teams from China will participate in the next ACL, giving the Chinese players more top games and valued experience against the best Koreans, Japanese and Australian teams, who all have different football philosophies. For young players it’s crucial to face different opponents so they learn to adapt to different styles and develop game intelligence.
Recent investments buying big name players to China adds more to the development of Chinese football than just a good name and brand. It raises the level of the Chinese players and pushes the future in a more positive direction.
10-15 years of Patience & Continuity
Even all the positive signs in China right now, this is a long journey – a marathon not a sprint. Science and football history suggests that it takes 10-15 years to change a football system before you can review and measure the effect.
At a higher level; Spain structured their talent development in 1992 and around 2004 FC Barcelona and Spain started to claim the trophies. Germany re-structured and upgraded in 2002, won the World Cup in 2014 and with Bayern Munich as a contender to the Champions League every year as well.
The latest example is Belgium, who now are outsiders to might even win the Euros this summer. I had a very interesting chat with Michel Sablon in Singapore a few months ago. Michel is seen as ‘the father’ of the development plan of Belgium. Michel believes that Asian countries (and in particular China) have the population, but need to work in the same direction, develop a strong FA to set the guideline and then continue working for a decade to succeed.
So the two key words in this process are patience and continuity. Patience to wait for the effect and believe in the results will come. Continuity; keep investing and keep the level and enthusiasm that we are witnessing currently for at least decade.
The only genuine concern for China and the development of their football culture; whether they have the patience and can keep the investment to create the vital continuity over the years.
Everyone working within talent development knows that the crucial years are 9-14 otherwise known as ‘The Golden Age’, where the foundation for the future to be able to play on the highest level is, so we need to focus on the next generation and create the right pathway for the players to grow and follow them all the way up through the system.
Will we see ‘The Chinese Messi’?
This is a question I hear a lot. It can only really be answered hypothetically as there is only one Messi, (so let’s enjoy him while he is here!). However, looking at the skills and style of a Chinese player compared to what it takes to play on the highest level, I see opportunities as the Chinese players in general appear to be strong athletically and have excellent muscle twitch fibres. These explosive attributes means they are fast, move well and with the modern football getting faster and faster demanding more high intensity running, the Chinese can cope with the physical demands.
In my opinion, they can develop just as well as the Europeans or South Americans technically and tactically, when the football education is in place and the level in training and in games go up.
If China shows patience in the new model, ensures it is running properly for 10-15 years; I’m positive we will see Chinese players be able to compete for a spot in the top leagues in Europe. The key in a player development is to take a long term view. If they keep this in mind and don’t force development we could soon see the emergence of a true football powerhouse.