China under-20 team face triple German league snub over ‘commercial gesture’
Chinese football authorities forge further links with reigning world champions, with the latest move seeing a youth team set to compete in the regionalised fourth tier
Plans to field a China under-20 side in the fourth tier of Germany’s soccer leagues have hit problems less than a day after the deal was signed with three of the teams in the league refusing to play against the Chinese side.
Chinese football authorities have been forging links with reigning world champions Germany, and on Wednesday confirmed the under-20 side will compete in the regionalised fourth tier as a developmental initiative, but the news of the deal has not met with universal approval in Germany.
Of the 19 teams in the league concerned, 16 have given the green light to the project, but Mannheim, TuS Koblenz and Stuttgarter Kickers have said “no”.
Mannheim opted out because they want their players to rest, Koblenz have declined after a fan protest, while Kickers would only take part if the whole league was involved.
“The main reason was there was no real concept behind the project and no sporting value for the participating clubs, nor could any assessment be made as to the standard of the Chinese team,” said Koblenz.
And as the club’s president Arnd Gelhard commented, it raises the question: “where does the commercialisation of football have its limit?”.
It is believed the Chinese side’s results will not count in the league placings and the under-20 team will begin playing in the second half of the season, from January onwards, according to a report by German sports news agency SID.
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“For the Chinese men’s under-20 team to be able to train in Germany and to compete in the Regionalliga Suedwest, it’s an important opportunity for Chinese football to learn from German football,” the Chinese national side said in a statement after the Chinese and German football associations signed an agreement in Beijing.
China’s government, led by football fan president Xi Jinping, is throwing money at the sport in the hope of ending years of national underachievement.
Xi wants China to host and challenge for the World Cup, but before that Chinese football bosses are targeting success at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which is played by teams made up of players aged under 23.
China’s national team are ranked 77th in the Fifa world rankings – between Sierra Leone and Qatar – and are all but certain to miss out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia.