Guangzhou Evergrande defender Zhang Linpeng caused a stir this week after revealing damning details of the Chinese National Team’s preparations for a recent Asian Cup 2015 qualifier with Saudi Arabia during an interview with a Hong Kong radio station.
Zhang, 24, is perhaps the only China player who is a certainty for a starting berth under new coach Alain Perrin and was the focus of a lengthy feature on his career to date. During the course of the conversation he detailed preparations he described as “complicated” and “unprofessional”.
Given that, despite the change in manager, the backroom staff of the national team have largely remained the same, Zhang’s verdict will likely have caused some uncomfortable moments at CFA headquarters over recent days. Despite some dramatic media reporting of the story, though, the Evergrande full-back is practically undroppable at the current time.
When asked about his ambitions to go abroad and the current state of the Chinese national side, Zhang responded: “Chinese football is too complicated. It’s much simpler abroad. As a team, you need to be focused on-pitch matters.
“When you go to the national team camps, there is not much time together and you only have these few occasions each year. Yet, when you go the feeling isn’t great.”
Zhang would then go on to make a startling revelation about how preparation was handled for the game with Saudi Arabia, making clear the team’s discontent with how they approached the game.
On the day of the game, we had three hours of meetings.
“I don’t know what I should or shouldn’t say, but I’ll give an example,” he continued. “We played an Asian Cup qualifier with Saudi Arabia and, on the day of the game, we had three hours of meetings. Nobody could quite understand why.
“From the officials to the coach, everyone wanted to speak. Some of it was about football, but some of it had no connection with football. After three hours, we needed to go and play. It was too unprofessional.
“Every time you go to the national team it is just a few days, you come just to play football. All the focus should be on the game, yet at an important time we were having meetings.”
Some of it was about football, but some of it had no connection with football.
The influential defender has received much support on social media since the comments were first reported by Chinese media, with many welcoming the exposure of China’s behind the scenes issues. There have, though, been some who have expressed concerns that Zhang will be in some way disciplined for his open criticism.
For the player, though, European football continues to be the primary aim and he has repeatedly expressed his desire to challenge himself in recent interviews. On this occasion, Zhang insisted that he would play for free just for the opportunity to test himself abroad, although he also reaffirmed his commitment to Evergrande until that moment arises.
Pushed as to whether he believes China has a hope of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, he was more cautious than some have been with their predictions, instead citing the 2022 tournament in Qatar as a realistic aim.
For Chinese football to realise that ambition, however, changes need to be made at all levels and if comments like Zhang’s can help change the clearly harmful setup around the national side, it can only be a positive thing for China’s long-term footballing development.
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