Sven-Goran Eriksson, currently coach of high-flying Guangzhou R&F, makes an amazing revelation in an interview originally published in his club’s match day program. The decorated former England, Roma, Lazio and Manchester City coach reveals he once offered to take up the reins of the Chinese national side, yet the Chinese FA refused and asked him to coach the under 23 Olympic team instead. Sven also gives his views on Chinese football in general as well as the upcoming World Cup.
Before coming to R&F, had you ever considered coaching in China?
Yes. I’d been to Beijing before the 2008 Olympics and I talked to the CFA about coaching the Chinese Olympic football team. I told them I wanted to coach the national team and not the Olympic team but they weren’t interested. They said because Beijing would host the Olympics that at that time the Olympic side was the most important. But for me, as a Swede the Olympics are not as important as the World Cup.
How do you evaluate the current crop of Chinese players?
They work very hard and have good discipline. The main problem is that football is not universal in China. In parks and other open spaces people don’t play football; they play basketball, table tennis, badminton. But I rarely see people in parks playing football. If you go to open spaces in Europe, South America, or in London or Sweden; people play football. But the Chinese people don’t. I think that if we want to do better, this is what we have to change. I’m just talking generally about Chinese football, not specifically about the national team. China’s national team is ranked 96th in the world but now many CSL clubs are establishing football schools which is a good thing for the future of Chinese football.
In China, people often say our footballers are not strong enough, that we don’t have the strength to compete with the world powers.
The Chinese people have enough physical strength, they can compete with other countries in other sports, why not football?
No, that’s not my view. Of course, the Chinese people have enough physical strength, they can compete with other countries in other sports, why not football? It is wrong. The real point is that football is very complicated: you must use your feet, not your hands; the pitch is big; eleven players against eleven. So, if you grow up without practicing when you are 5-10 years old, or even 13 years old, then you will miss a lot of things, such as training techniques, and you won’t understand the sport. If you wait until 15 or 16 years old to start training it will be too late.
What age do you think we should start playing football?
At 5 or 6 years old, the earlier the better. I think China needs a superstar. For instance, if a Chinese player can play at Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Barcelona, ect it will be a big boost to Chinese football. We’re all looking forward to the emergence of such a superstar. For example, in our club in the future, someone will get the chance to play in Europe. I’m sure of that.
You’ve had experience coaching across many different leagues. Where would you put the CSL?
The Chinese Super League cannot be compared with England, Spain, Italy or Germany because they are traditionally strong footballing nations so their leagues are very strong. But if you look at the other European leagues I think we can compete. For example, this year we played a pre-season friendly against AIK Solna (who finished second in the Swedish league in 2013) and we beat them.
What are your plans for the upcoming CSL break?
On May 31st, we’ll play a friendly against Villarreal; I think this is a good opportunity for the players. Then from June 1st we’ll have two weeks of leave and start training again on 15th for a period of five weeks. This will help us regain our rhythm before the league starts again in July. We also have the CFA Cup game and we’re still trying to find a few teams to play warm-up matches against. Our arrangements are tough but we must maintain a good physical state.
Alain Perrin watched the Canton derby and his assistant watched the game against Shanghai East Asia. Which R&F players do you think can be selected for China?
Jiang Ning made it into the national team last year. I think there are a lot of R&F players with the potential to enter the national team this year, such as Zhang Yuan, Cheng Yuelei, Tang Miao, Chang Feiya and Jiang Zhipeng.
When non-Chinese players move to the CSL it may reduce their opportunity to represent their national team, how do you see this problem?
I think it depends on what country the player is from. For Park Jong-Woo or Jang Hyun-Soo, I believe they can still compete for a place in the South Korean national team because there is not much difference between playing in the CSL and the K League. But Serie A, the Bundesliga, the English Premier League, La Liga, even the French League, are all ahead of the CSL. Of course, the future is anyone’s guess; the CSL is improving quickly so maybe it will not be such a problem in the future.
Which sides do you think have a chance to win the world cup?
You can’t rule out the Spanish. They are the defending champions and whilst their squad who won in South Africa in 2010 are four years older now, they are still world-class players. Spain are undoubtedly the favourites to win in Brazil. As hosts, Brazil, have home advantage and anybody coming across them will face a hard fight. Then there is Argentina, Sabella has a very good team and if Messi can continue his Barcelona heroics then Argentina have a good chance. I believe these three are the top teams. Then perhaps Germany. But the World Cup will be in South America, so I think it is difficult for a European team to win, the statistics show this.
If you were asked to choose only one team, who would you pick?
Only one choice? Then my answer is Brazil!
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