Tom with Takeshi Okada, current manager of Hangzhou Greentown.Can the two leave a legacy of development and success in Chinese football?

Tom Byer takes on China as Grassroots Ambassador

This week the Chinese Football Association annouced the appointment of Tom Byer as Head Teachnical Advisor for the Chinese School Football program and Official Grassroots Ambassador for the project. Known as Tomsan in Japan, Byer and his company T3 will extend his mission of developing grassroots football in Asia to China and continue his legacy of being the “Grassroots Guru” of football in the region.

Tom Byer on Chinese Football  ~ WEF  Interview (Past)

The appointment comes at a critical transition period of Chinese football as high profile acquisitions to the Chinese Super League ~ ala Drogba, Barrios, Kanoute, etc. ~ garner attention and superficial interest in the domestic sport while leaving a huge question mark after the forgotten “G” word in Chinese football.

Grassroots Football in China: A Dark Decade

Over the last decade Chinese grassroots football has suffered a huge drop in numbers and is in desperate need to gather momentum and  enthusiasm throughout youth levels of the sport. In the mid-90s there was over 300 thousand estimated U7-U18 registered players in China . Now there are less than eight thousand. From the same time period there was over two thousand football schools. Now there are less than twenty non professional-club-affiliated soccer schools in China. Such a downturn led the CFA to institute the China School Football program in 2009 to promote grassroots football nationwide, receiving FIFA’s Development Award for doing so.

The China School Football Project 

Tom Byer, the first foreigner to have a long term contract in Chinese grassroots football with the CFA.

Upon the projects initiation in 2009, the CSF was known domestically as the 44 Cities Project. Named for its implementation throughout 44 of China’s most developed cities. The program has enjoyed successes, starting up soccer programs in thousands of schools for tens of thousands of children. However the CSF represents a challenging process being undertaken. “Chinese education and sport structures are differnet than other countries.” Tomsan noted in a broadcast with Beyond the Pitch, “In China the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Education are isolated from each other. So the School Football project was created to help the school systems start soccer programs.” While the last three years have been a good start with the CSF, the program has suffered ‘growing pains’ of nationalizing a massive attempt to reconstruct the youth sport developmental system. Development has been slower than expected, but the CFA and the China Sports Bureau remains committed to supporting the program.

In 2011 the CFA announced a new sponsorship package for the Chinese Super League by Dalian Wanda Holdings Co. The USD77 million deal included enough funds to extend the 44 cities to over twice that number and boast several programs to send promising Chinese football youngsters abroad to get expert international training. Now, the CFA has shown a further willingness to get things right and partnered with international grassroots experts like Tom Byer in developing the youth game.

The last two decades has been a rollecoaster for grassroots football in China. Currently its in the slow aniticipatory rise.

Ingredients to a Grassroots Masterpiece

With the Chinese men’s national team already out of qualifying for the 2014 world cup clearly the emphasis of the Chinese game should be long term. There’s no better example of a successful long term plan than the much football-envied neighbors Japan. Around the year 2000 the Japanese Football Association started their 50 year plan, which is on course to claim a World Cup victory by 2050, with a massive grassroots campaign. Of course China and Japan are different, (Japan’s success is no doubt related to hosting the World Cup in 2002 while there are no signs of the World Cup coming to China). Still other examples like Germany’s “Golden Plan” from the 1960’s to the 90’s also resulted in outstanding performances. What do both of these programs have in common? They first set out to develop a foundation of the sport by partnering with local governments to implement quality soccer programs and curriculum, available to as many children as possible.

Tom Byer at the Heart of the New Dawn of Asian Football

For Japan, Tom San was a football player, coach, and enthusiast in the right place at the right time. With his innovative ‘omni-media’ approach and a communicative and all-inclusive interaction with youth soccer players Tomsan became a household name in Japan. With great foresight he’s already been getting the ball rolling for China and other Asian countries, with several visits to the middle kingdom and several hundred thousand followers on weibo. Before parting for his first trip to China as Grassroots ambassador Byer said, “I am honored to be appointed to this position and I look forward to working with the football youth and coaches of China over the coming years.”

Byer extends to China and Indonesia as Asia’s Grassroots Football Icon.

The recent news also flows from T3’s success in Indonesia, where recently theyouth and Sports Minister announced Inodnesia’s bid for the 2017 U17 World Cup with T3 as an advisor in the bidding commitee and Tom has advisor for developing coaching programs to prepare the national team. Tom is a avid fan of Japanese football, so he’s confronted with a supporters dilema of developing rival nations, “The way to make Japan a stronger football nation is to help make weaker Asian countries stronger, and that’s what I’m committing myself to do – helping out these countries by raising the overall standards [of grassroots football].

For the CFA School Football project T3 will provide:

  • Coaching services for youth football development at both player and coaching level through Tom Byer and his coaching staff and the T3 curriculum.
  • Development of specific programs and curriculum for youth development.
  • Production and provision of media (video, television, DVD and other computer based coaching and training content. Develoment and use of software to assist coaching in youth development.)

The Road Ahead For the Guru
This week Tom will be visiting four national youth football training centers in China to deliver coaching seminars to Chinese youth instructors and players. First visiting Shenyang in Liaoning Province (the heart of Chinese football), followed by Chengdu in Sichuan province (another pillar in traditional Chinese football), before going to Guangzhou in Guangdong Province (the recent star in Chinese football), before returning to headquarters in Tokyo.

Whether for proven coaching methods, innovative marketing and media platforms, or grassroots guru healing magic  the CFA has wisely chosen an Asian football icon to plant the seeds for a new era of grassroots football in China. If the future generation of Chinese football yields just one footballing Yao Ming, we’ll have to upgrade Tom from footballing guru to god.

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