After yet another whacky move it’s time to ask: why can’t the Chinese Football Association stop shooting itself in the foot?

Enforced military service for ‘under-25’ players is just the latest in a series of moves by the CFA to patch it’s faltering development on the world stage

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 12:46pm

“What is going on at the Chinese Football Association?” is like asking “does the village idiot seem a bit weird today?” It is perhaps the most disorganised governing body in all sport, it’s certainly the most unpredictable, but it seems to have finally peaked this time.

While Marcello Lippi’s full national side prepared to play India on Saturday and Syria midweek and the under-21s were at a training camp in the Netherlands, the suits had a different fate in store for some of the most promising under-25s in the country.

After announcing on October 2 that 55 under-25s from the Chinese Super League and China League One clubs would have their seasons ended and taken to a military style training camp until December 28, said camp got underway last Monday. The photographs of them training with Special Forces are as farcical as the ruling itself, plucked right out of a Rocky montage for the fighter you’re meant to root against.

The October 2 announcement came barely 24 hours after the CFA released the Under-23 rule “version 3.0” – where clubs no longer had to match their foreign stars with domestic youngsters if under-23s were called up to the national team. It was something that made no sense at the time, because there are no such tournaments, but it quickly did in the context of the even more ridiculous camp.

Youth policy is not computer software. You can’t keep releasing patches to fix bugs. People will notice. And this third iteration of under-23 hokey cokey already looks as doomed as the first two – the initial rule to make sure clubs played under-23s, which was abused by subbing them off after the minimum required 15 minutes, and the subsequent change to tie them to the use of foreigners.

This is the latest “quick fix” offered up by the CFA and their overlords at the Sports Ministry now former chief Cai Zhenhua has seemingly been shifted to trade unions. Never mind that no one has ever heard of “under-25s” as an age group, this training camp has been rubber-stamped as the solution but to what end?

The word is that the players who are not thrown out of camp and banned from all competitions for failing to display the requisite “spirit” will make up two squads to play in the CSL and League One next season, according to the Beijing Evening News. Those teams will compete in the league as other clubs with one notable exception – the opposition will not be allowed to play their foreigners.

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Anyone who has observed Chinese football over the last decade can see the failing there. How can young players improve without playing better players? That’s the development curve the world over, get youth players playing men’s football to see them realise their potential.

Instead China has nationalised its young talent and will force them to play in the domestic petri dish, against a pool of players whose very best are failures on the international stage. Beijing Guoan chairman Zhou Jinhui sees the problem clearly, advising that Chinese football doesn’t “repeat the same mistakes” in order to stop arresting development. This is not the first military camp.

Zhou has been bold enough to speak out after his club lost several players including Wei Shihao who will be unavailable for the Chinese FA Cup final, as will Shandong Luneng’s six call-ups.

Missing from the “under-25” camp are some of the players with Hiddink at his training camp held in his old Dutch FA stomping ground. These current under-21s are being groomed for glory at Tokyo 2020’s Olympic football tournament.

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Some of them were among the Chinese under-23 team that kept alive the long tradition of underperforming on the regional stage at the Asian Games, losing to country’s whose leagues don’t feel the need for such measures.

While Hiddink is just getting started, Marcello Lippi has indicated his time is coming to an end after the Asian Cup in January, a tournament for which these matches are preparation. The idea of this current incarnation of the CFA hiring a new manager is a frightening prospect – it is just a couple of weeks since basketball legend Yao Ming was linked with the role of CFA chairman.

Bizarre as employing a man with no football experience would be, it would not be unexpected. This is the same CFA who spin their wheel of misfortune when punishing players to hand out 12-month bans for missing dinner and wearing necklaces, or a six-month suspension for a thumbs up. There are certain to be more head scratching decisions to come.

The question is not what will the CFA do next but when are Fifa going to act?

The body is not fit for purpose and it is controlled by the state contravening Fifa’s laws. The answer is sadly the same as when the CFA’s decisions start to make sense to anyone interested in developing football: never.