It’s no secret that China’s grassroots coaching system is badly under-developed and lacking interested participants. But is delighted to report there are a growing number of individuals dedicated to changing this. Ebbe Sand Soccer Academy – CETA Soccer was launched over three months ago and is based at the Shanghai Rugby Club’s premises in northern Pudong district. Their operations are still expanding and they carry out after school and weekend training sessions for players of ages 5-18.
The school has been established with some very serious credentials – Ebbe Sands was capped 66 times for the Danish national team and played 281 matches for Bundesliga side Schalke 04, where he was top scorer in 2001. He was Bundesliga “Player of the year” in 2001, and in 2008 named the greatest player to have ever played in the Danish Premier Division by the Danish paper Ekstra Bladet.
Working with Ebbe is 29-year-old Mads Davidsen who and has coached professionally for several years in his native Denmark. He’s been responsible for training B.93 Copenhagen’s youth teams and most recently was coaching the Brondby’s U19 team. The UEFA A coaching license-holder also gained a Masters in Communication from Roskilde University.
spoke to Mads about their plans for the academy and positive change they wish to bring.
: Thanks for joining us Mads. Can you give us a brief introduction to the new academy?
Agent for change – coach Mads Davidsen
Mads Davidsen: Our Academy is partnered with the China Elite Training Academy which is Shanghai’s and China’s best Tennis Academy. They have full-time employees and work together with the Chinese national team, so we have a real high performance team and an elite culture here.
The academy is almost three months old now. We basically started it from scratch, bringing out our knowledge and high performance culture, with the desire to apply it the same way in Shanghai and China as we did in Denmark. Right now we have a lot of meetings with partners and possible sponsors, so I can’t say too much, but we are the first elite academy in Shanghai, so we are interesting one to work with.
: What are the aims of the Academy?
ED: Our aim is to fulfill potential, achieve greatness, creating joy, and developing winners. And we have three overall aspects. Firstly, to create elite soccer players, who can play professionally at both local and international level. Secondly, to make kids in Shanghai and China choose soccer as their first choice of team sport. And thirdly, to educate the next generation of young Chinese coaches and make a contribution to Chinese sporting society this way.
: How do you plan to tackle Chinese parents reluctance to let their kids take football seriously?
ED: I have great respect for the culture and Chinese society here, and I know that I can help the Chinese players to not only become better players but also become better students at the same time, this is where we can convince the parents. At Brondby we had players performing better at the pitch, whilst they were serious with their school and education, so we know it’s a win-win situation. And with a focus on team work, discipline, respect for others and learning to take responsibility, the academy aims to provide the players with attributes that can be used on as well as off the football field. And we also welcome expats as well. I think a cultural mix is perfect for a team.
: What skills do you bring to the academy?
I have developed several players for the Danish Youth National teams (U16-U19), and trained players who later won professional contracts at Inter Milan, Chelsea and Bayern Münich. This means I know what it takes to create a winner and a top player. Personally as a coach – I want to go as far as possible. The sky is the limit for me!
: What motivated you personally to come to China to take on this project? Do you have previous connections with China?
ED: Actually, I had never been to Asia before coming here, so everything is new to me. I like a challenge in my life and I would like to develop my own skills as a coach, as a leader, as a human being, and when I sat down with my agent, we agreed that this was a giant step for my career. Not many Danish coaches go abroad, so it’s a big chance for me, and I love it here.
My way of coaching can be described as a modern leadership style with focus on developing technically and mentally strong players who are able to think and act under pressure. To me, the development of the mental strength of the players is especially important, and in my eyes the mental aspect is a much underrated element of the football world today. Football is played with your feet but won with the inside of your head. If you acknowledge the importance and the effect of being mentally strong, one can move football players significantly further.
: Do you have any plans to expand outside of Shanghai?
ED: Right now, Shanghai is big enough for us, its like a big country in Europe, so our focus is here right now.
wishes Ebbe and Mads the very best of luck in their endeavour and hopes to publish more stories on their successes in the future.
Author: Cameron Wilson
UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…