An ambition or dream is part of human nature. We all want to look towards a goal and touch it as soon as possible in the hope that you make your closest friends and family proud. Targets in football though can be expanded to governments and countries.
China is a prime example. Thirty years ago it was South America and Europe which dominated the footballing landscape, on a domestic and international front. Now Asia is attempting to play catch up, with Chinese President Xi Jinping hopeful that his nation can be competing against Germany or Brazil in the future on the grandest stage.
Xi hopes that China has at least 20,000 football training centres and 70,000 pitches by 2020, 50 million children and adults playing the game in two years and ensuring one football pitch for every 10,000 people by 2030.
However, the project is so ambitious that a myriad of sporting commentators and analysists claim that it will be impossible to achieve. So, here are three reasons why China won’t become a footballing superpower by 2020.
1) The Chinese Super League’s model is inferior to the Premier League or La Liga
The reason England’s top division is so popular is that a generation of supporters in China have grown up supporting either Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal, given that those three clubs have achieved a tremendous amount of success since the turn of the century. All of it visible on TV screens as China has developed into a technologically hungry country.
What about La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga? It’s not exactly the same problem but these three nations compete within the UEFA Champions League, and regarding branding, the CSL is streets away from matching the likes of Spain, Germany and Italy’s top clubs. After all, one of Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have competed in Europe’s biggest final since 2009, so it’s unlikely Guangzhou Evergrande or Shandong Luneng will ever become as popular. Branding’s a significant issue and it’s doubtful China can catch up.
2) Lack of success from the national team
China has only ever qualified for one World Cup, in 2002, where they failed to score a goal and finished bottom of the group. For a country with the world’s largest population, the expectation is that in twenty years time this trend will be a thing of the past, yet although progress is evident it’s still unbelievably slow.
The best example of that was China’s recent attempt to qualify for Russia 2018. Even with Marco Lippi as the coach, and a rise from 100th to 71st in the FIFA World Rankings between 2008 to 2017, the nation finished below Uzbekistan and Syria in the Asian Qualifying Group. There is no doubt that China will likely improve on that as they look to compete in Qatar 2022, but the question is can they bridge the gap?
3) Football is not China’s national sport
In Western Europe and certainly South America, football is the sport that brings people together more than any other, whether on the local five a side pitch, pub or the beach.
Yet look at China and that’s not the case. Table tennis takes up that role, so it’ll not be surprising to hear that in the last three Olympics it has swept away the opposition, winning a clean sweep on singles and doubles medals in Beijing, London and Rio De Janiero.
Even with a vast swathe of money implemented into improving football infrastructure within China, there are serious doubts whether that improvement in the game can seep into the minds of over a billion people so that they can recognise it as a sport which is integral to their individual identity. It’s highly unlikely that in the short term especially the country will become infatuated with the sport. In the long run? Who knows.