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Camacho talks about future of Chinese football & his relationship with Lippi

Despite having a number of things on his mind, not the least picking the upcoming national team line-up, Jose Antonio Camacho sat down with The Beijing News on Monday and answered a number of questions about his time in charge of the national team, what he’s done, and China’s future. His comments about China making it to the 2018 World Cup toward the end of the interview made headlines, but it doesn’t say very much. The interview says a lot, but reading between the lines leads to even more questions. The following interview is translated exclusively for Wild East Football.

You’ve been coaching in China for two years now, have you been happy here?

Jose Antonio Camacho: As the national team manager, I regularly have to be together with the players, but typically I also have time to myself. All in all, I’m satisified with my time here, there’s been plenty of happiness.

Outside of national team practices and attending CSL matches, what do you do in your free time?

Most of my time is spent somehow connected to football. I pay attention to many elements of football and regularly watch live matches or film of players to find out their positives and negatives.

After defeating Iraq, did you return to Spain?

Yes, it was mainly due to illness and to see a doctor, but I returned after only a couple days.

Many people didn’t realize you returned to Spain to see the doctor, they thought that in the middle of the CSL season, you shouldn’t have left.

Even though I left China, my heart was still there. I was still receiving information about the CSL and didn’t stop working.

There’s a feeling that if you are unable to get China into the Asian Cup, you will be fired and Marcello Lippi will take over.

I don’t have any concern about that. Before I came here people said I’d be living in a palace, but I don’t have a palace. This isn’t what I’m thinking about, I also have no control over it.

If you are unsuccessful in coaching China,will you regret your initial decision to come here?

If I didn’t agree to come to China, I would have surely ended up in charge of another national team. Lippi and (Roda) Antic [Shandong Luneng manager) are the same. Everyone came on their own free will, there’s nothing to regret.

Thoughts on the national  team

What’s the difference in your understanding of the national team now as compared to when you first came here?

Chinese football has been constantly improving. A number of club sides are completely different this year, overall they are all changing. The national teamers need to understand that they are representing China, their responsibilities are different from when they are with their club sides. In the CSL,the foreign players take on much of the burden,but when the Chinese players get to the national team, they need to know the responsibilities are all on them.

Some have called for Muriqui to gain Chinese citizenship and play for the national team, what change do you think it would have?

Muriqui’s getting Chinese citizenship and joining the national team is something I can’t decide, that’s for the Chinese government to decide.

Personally, would you like to see him in the national side?

Talking about this is pretty insignificant as it’s not possible right now. All I can do is wait and see and if it becomes a reality, then we can talk about it. All I can do is focus on the players who are eligible for China now. The biggest problem for the national team right now is that it’s lacking a scorer, most of the clubs rely on a foreign striker to score the goals.

China’s strikers Gao Lin, Yu Dabao, and Yang Xu regularly play on the flank or as substitutes at their respective clubs.

Every national team, at its very root, has a striker it can rely on, but China’s very deficient in this position, most of the clubs rely on foreigners.


Has this been difficult for you to deal with?

This isn’t just an issue China has, before other countries, even Spain, have had similar issues. Most CSL clubs rely on a foreing striker, there needs to be time to change attitudes and then we’ll start to see youth players getting more chances, but the national team doesn’t have this kind of time.

The mind of a manager

When you first started managing the national team, you pointed out a number of problems: the  rhythm of the match was too slow, the team lacked possession, there were completely different attitudes in practice and during matches, the team failed to grasp opportunities — do you feel these issues have been solved?

These aren’t only problems in China, many Asian teams have these issues. I only said that this is a problem in Asian football, not specifically issues that China has.

Having been in charge of the side for two years, in what areas have you improved the team? What issues still need to be tackled?

I’m the national team manager, my job is to pick the best players available to me, I’m not responsible for developing the players. If the players get developed right through the league, then I can pick them. If they aren’t developed right, who do I have to pick? The Chinese domestic league is still young, it needs time to develop and mature. Only when the league’s competitiveness and intensity improves, will the players’ endurance develop. Not everyone needs to be the type who is constantly running, some players may not run a lot but can still score goals, but overall, there needs to be that kind of endurance.

Many feel that Spain’s tactics are very advanced and they hope China can copy them, is this realistic?

Many people simply focus on Spain’s scoring tactics and don’t focus on the defense. When Spain lets up a goal, they do everything they can to get it back immediately, their defensive tactics are also incredibly advanced. Spain’s system is great, but its not easy, we can’t just see the good and make the change here right away. At this stage, there are things we can learn from them, but it can’t be completely copied. Currently, China lacks some good results, but our play on the pitch should satisfy people.

Most of the national team comes from Guangzhou Evergrande, is this a good thing?

It’s not a bad thing. When I just got here, there were only five players from Evergrande. Now there are a few more, but we’ve also found good players from other teams, and even some new players. Some of the players were originally on a different team and then ended up on Evergrande, like Zeng Cheng for example, his team was relegated.  As long as they are a skilled player, it doesn’t matter what team they come from, I will find them. I’m selecting players, not teams, these players ended up getting bought by Evergrande, I can’t do anything about that.

Daily work

Have you calculated how many league matches you watch each year? Outside of league matches, have you used other methods to understand Chinese football and its players?

Every round, I will try to watch at least three matches, so all together its about 50 or 60 a season. Beyond watching the matches, we’ll aslo do analysis, focusing on the players currently in the squad and what their strengths are, but also on players who aren’t currently in the squad but are playing well.

I have the feeling you don’t often communicate with the clubs, why is that?

When I was in Kunming [before the start of the CSL season] I talked with some of the managers, when the clubs were testing the players there, we also had an eye on the results. These kind of things help, but they don’t help that much. If I see a problem, I will talk with the manager, for example when Evergrande where in Spain training, I takled with Lippi a lot. I also have talked with Antic. But of course the goal of a national team and a club are different. My goal is for the national team alone, I don’t really think about other things. When we lost 0-1 to Spain we played great, but nobody asked why. When we play well, nobody asks. I don’t understand why.

Do you feel there is an attitude of pessimism towards the team?

Football is a gradual process, it’s not “I’m in charge of the national team today, tomorrow we can win the title.” There’s a process, you need to see development over time, we need time.

As the manager of the national team, do you think you’ve gotten the necessary support from the CFA?

When the national team starts training, I find that players who should have arrived have yet to arrive. To the clubs, these players competing in the ACL or the league is more important, but I’m the national team manager. I know nothing about the CFA’s coordination. A national team match, no matter who the opponent is, should be more important than any match a club team plays, because you’re representing your country, you’re representing China’s top players, but sometimes its not like this.

At your introductory press conference, Wei Di (former head of the CFA) announced you as the “Chief architect of Chinese youth football”, but it seems you haven’t done much in that regard.

Nobody gave me this task.

They’ve never given you this responsibility?

They’ve only given me one task, manage the national team, nothing else, so I’ve not thought about anything else.

After China lost its first Asian Cup qualifying match, there was a lot of criticism and challenges to you, how did you feel?

Football’s like this, when you win, you’re a God; when you lose, you’re worthless.

After losing that first match, did you start to feel the pressure?

There was no pressure, this is my job. Every match I need to prepare the team to be able to win.

During your hardest time in China, Bosque and Cruyff wrote articles supporting you. How is your relationship with them?

We’re all professional football people, and also good friends. They saw our football, they saw what we were doing. I’m confident the CFA also saw that there were improvements. If the results are good or bad depends on various factors, but we are trying for a good target. Chinese football has gone through some difficult years recently, before I came here many people told me “Chinese don’t understand football,” but I don’t pay attention to this, I will prepare based on my own way of thinking.

In Changsha before the Iraq match, when reporters asked you about resigning, what did you thik?

This isn’t something I should think about. Some people have liked the job I did, some don’t, it’s hard to reach everybody. I have a responsibility to the CFA, to the national team. If the CFA thinks I’m not doing my job, they’ll make a change. The CFA actually believes I’ve done a pretty good job, what we’re doing, everyone can see, how people will feel about it is not something I can decide. There are many things around the national team that I simply can’t decide, for example, today we’ll practice here, but tomorrow we’ll go somewhere else to practice. All I can do is make sure we are actively preparing for a match, a pyramid doesn’t have its tip right away, it must be built from the base, without the base, it can’t survive. I can take the best players China has to make the tip, use the best methods, the best food, but there’s no base, so it’s difficult. Sometimes I want to choose someone, but the clubs are too selfish and they refuse, this sort of selfishness exists. If every club behaves like this, then I don’t have anybody to use.

The quetions you get about your methods from outside are because everyone wants to see China do better.

I can understand this. The China team is improving, but it’s somewhat chaotic and needs adjustments. As the national team is improving, improvements also need to be made down the pyramid, only in this way can we get a good result. No matter the country, without results at the youth level, you can’t get results at the national team,  only when the youth blooms can the national team win.

Looking to the future

Many people believe your salary is too high.

Some of Chinas’ players and managers don’t have a very high salary, that might be because they aren’t recognized as being highly talented. My salary was pretty simple, I was told an amount, I thought it was appropriate, so I came to work. I’ve done what I can for this job, reflecting my value. It doesn’t matter what the salary is, my job is the same, I’ve never said “if you give me less money, I’ll do less work.” When China asked me to come, I was considering other offers, I’d talked with other national teams, but because I got the most positive response from China, I came here.

What’s your relationship with Lippi like? Do you have professional talks?

This year we’ve met four or five times at most. If there’s an issue between the national team and Guangzhou, he’ll give me a call.

In Asian Cup qualifying, China has won one match and lost one match, do you think they can advance?

I believe we can, but I can’t guaranee it. We’re working hard, you’ve seen how the national team is now, we scored in the final minute of the last match, we’ve had simialr chances in other matches, but we just couldn’t grasp them. Against Saudi Arabia, if we would have grabbed hold of our chances and scored two goals, the result would have been different.

When compared to the Asian Cup, Chinese are hoping far more to get into the World Cup, do you think China can qualify for the 2018 World Cup?

Our U19 team didn’t make it into the Youth World Cup, so from a continuity perspective, it will be hard for China. Players are one generation after another, if they weren’t able to do well when they were young, what’s going to change four years later? If over the next four years, they have the chance to play in matches, it might help, but if they don’t play, then its hard to say. Those advanced countries have U19, U17 leagues and so their young players always have matches, but China doesn’t. It’s easy to say that winning championships is easy, but when you really try to do it, it’s hard, there’s so many things at the base of Chinese football that need to be done. 

Chinese football needs patience and a long-term outlook, sometimes there’s too much demand for instant success, for example briging in Lippi last year and insisting on winning the ACL. It’s too fast! Lippi can definitely win an ACL title, but he needs time.


Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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