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How do you build a Chinese football team?

Professional football is making a bold expansion into China’s hinterland this year with the debut of a newly established club in Ningxia province,  Yinchuan Helanshan FC after the new outfit was officially unveiled last November.

Head coach of the club is 40 year old Abraham Garcia, who had previously spent 11 years working with both Real and Atletico Madrid’s academy teams. While there, he was involved in the development of players such as Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David de Gea and many more.

Garcia’s  credentials for develop football in an area of China lacking grassroots activity are clear. Ahead of the new campaign, Wild East Football caught up with him to find out how one starts a  football team from scratch and how things are going at present.

Yinchuan Helanshan F.C. are newly founded in Ningxia province, what are the main goals of the club?

Yinchuan Helanshan F.C. Club Crest

Yinchuan Helanshan F.C. Club Crest

It’s a new project making a professional team with the aim of reaching China League One and hopefully one day the CSL. It is difficult at the moment but we have to go step by step without the need to hurry too much.

Who is behind the club in terms of directors, financial backing and coaching?

The government of Ningxia are helping with the ground – the 40,000 capacity Helanshan stadium in Yinchuan (which recently saw action in September last year with a 3-1 youth match between China and Kuwait). We also have some good backers as sponsors including Sidonli energy drink, Carlsberg beer and BOY a Spanish company. We are co-sponsored by Yinchuan municipal sports administration, and Spain’s Best of Sports S.A.

Ningxia is not particularly known for football, is the project attracting local interest?

I think it is for this reason that people in the province are pushing hard to start up soccer. It is the only province really without a good team and the people of Yinchuan want this.

How do you ‘build’ a football club? Where do you even start with that?

It is really complicated but it’s also really thrilling too. Firstly you have to come up with the structure of the club in all areas, at the moment we have the Manager Mr. Li and the Director of Sports Pedro Granero who are both working very hard. There are currently lots of people involved in the back offices with the Chinese FA who are pushing hard to get good results including of course the coaching staff.

At the moment I would say we are 75% ready, we are in Kunming and China League Two starts later than the other leagues, probably towards the end of April, so we will move to Ningxia at the end of March.

In terms of player recruitment are things being done locally or across China?

The 40,000 capacity Helanshan stadium

The 40,000 capacity Helanshan stadium

Yinchuan and Ninxia are small areas if you compare other places in China. We have local players but we need recruit in other regions too. The rules in this league are clear, all the players must be under 25 years old, except for five over 25’s so we have to look all over China.

Teams like Dalian Aerbin, Harbin Yiteng and Shanghai East Asia have all reached the CSL after winning China League Two, is that the goal?

Why not! Right now the most difficult part is starting out. We have to go slowly, lay a strong foundation and then patiently build up without going too fast for ourselves.

What is your background in football?

I started coaching at 17 years old after playing at a semi-professional level. My father was an important coach and in my home we always lived and breathed football.

I was in elementary clubs in the beginning and ended up at the Atletico Madrid academy in their Under16s and Under 19s and then moved onto Real Madrid spending three years in their third team. I ended up back at Atletico again with their B-team, taking on some senior responsibilities and worked alongside Fernando Torres among other famous players.

After that I started coaching at different teams like Deportivo La Coruna, Malaga and Toledo and was offered this exciting opportunity to work in China with great personnel so had to take it.

How are you finding the cultural and language differences?

I’m a cosmopolitan man, I love traveling when football gives me the chance to. China is marvelous so far, it all seems really different, but awesome at the same time. I am learning Chinese using an internet course right now and can say a few easy sentences.

Garcia is getting used to Chinese life

Garcia is getting used to Chinese life

In other countries you must be like a local and do the same things as them. I have an English to Chinese translator so am building up relationships right now.

Are you getting to know the players well?

Of course, getting to know the players is the most important thing, I am studying their profiles and professional backgrounds at the moment and am trying to understand as much of that as possible at the moment. The other coaches, Du Ping (capped 4 times by China, retired at Panjin Mengzun in 2010) and Mr. Ma are helping me a lot as they played in China for many years. Ma played in the CSL. Zhu Bo (capped 86 times by China, former coach of Changsha Ginde F.C., Guangzhou R&F and Shenzhen Fengpeng) is also very important as he has a lot of experience in Chinese football.

Do you think promotion is a realistic goal?

I think it is possible and we have to fight for this challenge, but we have to be realistic and we are aware that there are bigger clubs with more experienced squads ready to compete with us. We must make some big decisions in the future and avoid mistakes.

Follow the fortunes of Abraham on his Twitter @Abraham__G

Beijing-based Peter Davis has followed Chinese football since 2008 and is a regular contributor to Wild East Football. He can be found on Twitter and Weibo at @peteydavis

Pete is from Sheffield, England and came to China in 2008 initially living in Shenyang where he witnessed his first CSL game, Liaoning Whowin v Chengdu Blades. Pete is a fanatic Sheffield Wednesday fan but has picked up football allegiances from various trips, Galatasary in Turkey, Piacenza in Italy and Muangthong United in Thailand. In early 2009 he moved to Beijing and after a brief time started attending Guoan games regularly. Pete graduated in Journalism in the UK and has written for several educational publications on Chinese education for his day job as well as Chinese football for WEF which he wishes was more developed but avidly follows the Imperial Guards on their quest for CSL supremacy regardless.

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