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Xu Genbao: “Current crop of Chinese football coaches are not good enough”

Chinese football legend Xu Genbao, who managed two clubs to the Jia-A championship and helped guide Shanghai SIPG’s forerunners, Shanghai Dongya, to the top flight, says China’s biggest problem is a lack of quality coaches.

Xu was recently appointed youth development adviser to the CFA and made the remarks during a speech marking the opening of a new youth development centre on January 31.

I hope youth coaches can first of all learn and improve. But we now have a situation in which people who are willing to work as a youth coach are generally not very good and people who are good are not willing to work in such capacity.”

The former Shanghai Shenhua manager talked frankly on his coaching philosophy and the current crop of managerial and youth coaching talent.

“The greatest difficulty of ours is that our coaches’ abilities are still lacking,” the godfather of Shanghainese football said. “In 1975 I was still a member of the national team. When it disbanded the following year I was asked where I was expecting to work next and said I was going to get involved in youth football.”

“I don’t think anyone else had the same answer, as most of my contemporaries went to coach [adult] provincial teams, but I went to Beijing’s youth team and discovered Gao Hongbo,”

As a player Gao became top goalscorer in the Chinese domestic league and national team but failed to help Beijing Guo’an to win the championship title, and did not see the national team qualify for the World Cup or win the Asian Cup. His managerial career followed a similar path. Although he coached unfancied Changchun to a shock 2007 CSL title by a single point over his old club Guo’an, his two spells in charge of the national team turned out to be massive disappointments. 

Xu did not specifically reference Gao’s coaching record. But said, “Youth coaches need to learn how to select the right players. I spent more than ten years in Chongming Island (where his Shanghai Academy is based) and right from the beginning I emphasised the importance of selection to our coaches,”  and suggested that football could learn from other sports’ youth coaching systems in China.

He added, “At that time the Chinese swimming team was making very huge improvement then, because aside from the scientific training, they benefited most from selection mechanism – they tested who were the most comfortable in the water.”

The 74-year-old owner of Lorca FC, the La Liga 2 side, talked about his own selection criteria: “I select people using three aspects. The first is their physical attributes, mainly speed and endurance – speed comes first as it is the most important thing on the pitch.

“Secondly they need have a good sense of the game, they need a brain. And the third is good attitude those who are lazy, cowardly or slow are eliminated. These are the criteria I apply in Chongming and the reason why I cultivated a lot of good players. You can also look at what I trained them: how to intercept the ball, to pressure the opponents, to reinforce your teammates, to receive and pass the ball.”

Xu, who has founded a new youth team, based on the winning Shanghai team in the National Games last year, to compete at the fourth-tier of the Chinese league, also had a few words of hope for some of his former pupils who are currently in their heyday and suggested they could go on to become head coaches.

“I hope my crop of players, the generation of Wu Lei, Zhang Linpeng and Wang Shenchao make some real, substantial contribution to Chinese football after they retire from playing, just as they have already done on the pitch in the CSL.”

Chinese football writer who has travelled other direction.

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