Will the "Sleeping Lion" Awaken? Reform of Chinese Soccer June 18, 18:10

In June, the second qualifying round for the Soccer World Cup Asia was held in various places, and the Japanese national team, aiming to participate in seven consecutive tournaments, decided to advance to the final qualifying round.

One of the teams Japan could face in the final qualifying is China.

China aims to become a "soccer powerhouse" with a population of 1.4 billion.

However, four tournaments have been moved away from the World Cup, and even at the club level in Asia, they have been behind Japan, South Korea, and the Middle East.

Furthermore, due to the effects of the new coronavirus and other factors, the management of some clubs that have continued to "buy" has deteriorated.

Under these circumstances, the movement of "reform" is now proceeding quietly.

Will Chinese soccer, which has been called the "sleeping lion," finally wake up?

(Sotaro Watanabe, Directorate General of China)

Sudden dissolution

This February.

A shock ran in the Chinese soccer world.

Jiangsu FC, the club that won the first division of the domestic professional league "Super League" last season, suddenly announced the suspension of activities.

"A number of uncontrollable factors have accumulated, and it is no longer possible to guarantee that Jiangsu FC will continue to operate in the Super League, ACL (= Asian Champions League). With this notification, Jiangsu FC will stop its activities."

The exact reason for the suspension has not yet been clarified.

Supporters who got drunk with their long-cherished first victory last season will feel like they have a bad dream.

"Jiangsu FC" is about 2 hours by plane from the capital Beijing.

It was based in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province.

It was a historic club that has continued for more than 60 years since its predecessor, "Jiangsu Football Team".

Although he had won the cup game, he couldn't win the league easily, but in 2016, the owner company changed and he switched to the "bomb buying" route.

Former Brazil national team Ramirez has been acquired from Chelsea in the English Premier League for 28 million euros (about 3.6 billion yen), as well as foreign coaches and players one after another.

“Buy what you lack with money” With

reinforcements that embody the “soccer bubble” of China, the club has climbed to the top of Chinese soccer and won the right to participate in the ACL in which the strongest Asian clubs participate.

However, the fall was also quick.

As I proceeded with the interview, I heard information that "the management of the owner company had deteriorated for several years" and "the management was too diversified and it was not a management that fits my height".

It seems that the impact of the global spread of the new coronavirus was a decisive blow when companies spread too much.

One of Jiangsu FC's supporters does not hide his resentment at the disappearance of his beloved club.

"Jiangsu was a historic team. To throw the club out without any explanation. What do you think of our supporters?"

National strategy to become a "soccer powerhouse"

The professional soccer league started in China in 1994, 27 years ago.

It was the year after the establishment of the J League in Japan.

However, due to a series of frauds such as match-fixing, detailed rules for club management have been stipulated again.

In 2004, he changed the name of the first division league to "Chinese Super League" and made a restart.

Currently, 57 clubs from the 1st to 3rd divisions are participating, but like Jiangsu FC, more than 20 clubs have been active in the last 3 years due to the deterioration of the management of the owner company and the influence of the new corona. They have been forced to suspend or withdraw from the league.

Two plans launched by the government are said to have triggered China's "soccer bubble."

The 2015 "Overall Plan for Reform and Development of Chinese Soccer" and the 2016 "Medium- to Long-Term Development Plan for Chinese Soccer".

The plan states that "the dream of the rise of soccer, the dream of a sports powerhouse, and the dream of national revival will be realized", and the goal of "becoming a top-class soccer powerhouse" is set by 2050.

These plans, it is said that it is the policy of Xi Jinping Jintao prodding.

President Xi once said, "I'm a soccer fan," and is known as an avid fan.

As if in line with this national strategy, many clubs have stepped up their move to buy big players from abroad.

Sports journalist and critic Kaohsiung, who is a sports commentator on Chinese television, points out that various speculations have been swirling about the Chinese soccer world so far.

Mr. Kaohsiung

"Depending on the company, the purpose of club management was various, such as to enhance their brand power or to choose a political position. Soccer is just a tool, it is a tool Has a lifespan. It was in such a state that the supporters had nothing to do with it. "

Grassroots "reform"

Still, some clubs have set new directions.

"Nantong Zhiyun" is based in Nantong City, Jiangsu Province, which is the same as Jiangsu FC.

The idea of ​​a 6-year-old young club belonging to the second division is "community-based."

At a gathering of players and supporters that took place before the start of the season, the owner said:

President of Nantong Zhiyun

"Chinese soccer has returned to a rational business environment from the time of


management. Step by step, this is the destination of the development of Nantong Zhiyun, and who are we? But we aim to be an acceptable "100-year club" "

In addition to regular events for supporters, the club has sent coaches to local elementary schools since 2018 to open soccer classes.

In addition, we partnered with local convenience stores to increase supporters.

A special corner for goods is set up in the store, and public viewing is also open in the break space on the day of the game.

Through these grassroots activities, the number of members of the supporter club has more than tripled from about 6,000 when it was first established to 20,000 in five years.

Former China national team player Nantong Zhiyun's coach Xie Xie also emphasizes his supporter-focused stance.

Director Nantong Zhiyun Xie Akira

"I have played in Germany, but the soccer culture I saw there was a fusion of the atmosphere of the supporters and the soccer culture, and they coexisted. The supporters are the" backbone of the club. "

"Clubs have a greater social responsibility than just winning and losing matches, making money, and winning leagues. If the club exists solely for corporate advertising, then I lose my social responsibility and I can't hope for development. "

Being a competitive presence in Japan

In addition to these clubs, some Japanese are making steady efforts to establish a "true football culture" in China.

Takashi Rakuyama (40).

After belonging to J-League Jeff Chiba and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, he played for three years in China and scored his first goal as a Japanese player in the Super League.

Retired from active duty in 2014.

Mr. Leshan says he still remembers the sights he saw shortly after he moved to China.

Takashi Rakuyama

"When I saw a player who had finished training leaving the ground in a hurry, it seemed that it was nothing more than a" one job "as a means of making money, rather than a true love for soccer. I thought this shouldn't be the case. "

After retiring, Mr. Leshan established a soccer school for children in Shenzhen, southern China, in response to a request from supporters to "strengthen Chinese soccer."

Currently, more than 200 people from kindergarten to elementary school attend, but it is said that they are planning a program that will make children really like soccer.

Takashi Rakuyama

"Once China decides things, it exerts tremendous power and speed. The question is whether it can continue to do it. That is why it is important to continue in China, saying," True football. I want to take root in "culture". I think so. "

There was one more thing I would like to ask Mr. Rakuyama.

Last year, Mr. Rakuyama obtained the "S-class license" from the Japan Football Association.

You can also be the manager of a J-League club.

But why China?

Takashi Rakuyama

"Just because Japanese soccer is strong does not raise the level of Asia. As you can see from Europe and South America, teams in the same area work hard to raise their level. Certainly Japan The level of soccer is one of the best in Asia, but in order to make it even stronger, more countries need to become rivals. "

Will "Sleeping Lion" Awaken?

The reason for this interview was that the news of the suspension of Jiangsu FC's activities evoked a certain memory in me.

That memory is New Year's Day in 1999.

Yokohama Flugels, which had been decided to disappear from the J-League due to the poor management of the investment company, defeated Shimizu S-Pulse in the final of the Emperor's Cup and ended the curtain on the history of the club.

Looking back on the J-League in its infancy, Zico, Lineker, Littbarski, Stojkovic, Buchwald, Dunga ...

The number of big foreign players who came to Japan is innumerable.

And, although the amount of "bomb buying" of Chinese soccer until recent years greatly exceeds, there is a part that overlaps with the appearance of Japan at that time.

The base of soccer culture spreads over the vast China, and the cheers of the supporters awaken the "sleeping lion" from a deep sleep.

As a Japanese soccer fan, I would like to wait for such a day to come.

Sotaro Watanabe,

Directorate General of China

Joined in 2010.

After working at the Tokushima Bureau, Okinawa Bureau, International Department, and Political Department, he is now the Directorate General of China.

Spend high school / university in China.

Genuine Shimizu S-Pulse fan.

My favorite chants are "Viva S-Pulse" and "Fossa".

At the starting place, as a reporter in charge of Tokushima Vortis, he will see the birth of "Shikoku's first J1 team".

Recently, I have been worried about which one to support, Shimizu or Tokushima, who both have a strong feeling for.