Only if everyone took youth development as seriously, China might stand a chance
Officials are looking into the possibility having the China Olympic team play in League One from next season, but Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas still insists on stretching the under-23 quota rules
With news emerging recently that officials are looking into the possibility of having the China Olympic team play in League One from next season, it is clear someone is taking youth development seriously. It is just a shame Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas is not one of them.
China’s Olympic team need all the help they can get having only featured as hosts in Beijing in 2008, where they picked up one point from three games, before losing all three games in the qualifiers for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Guangzhou Evergrande’s Liao Lisheng seemed like the only player who cared for China at the 2016 AFC U-23 Championship in Qatar as the midfielder scored in all three games against hosts Qatar, Syria and Iran.
China took the lead in both games against Qatar and Syria through Liao’s superb free kicks, but on both occasions faded when the going got tough and eventually lost their two opening games.
Watch: Qatar 3-1 China highlights - 2016 AFC U-23 Championship
His late penalty turned out to be a consolation against an impressive Iran side as China lost their final game 3-2 in Doha.
China had not even reached the final round of qualifiers for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, although on that occasion they were slightly unfortunate to lose their play-off to Oman having been denied a last-minute winner in normal time of the second leg in Muscat before going on to lose in extra-time and on aggregate.
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The 2012 team was made up of a large group of players who are now plying their trade in the Super League and for the full national team with midfielder Wu Xi, defender Zhang Linpeng and goalkeeper Wang Dalei to name a few.
So the idea of having China’s under-23 or Olympic team play together on a regular basis makes some sense ahead of the qualifiers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo and beyond.
Watch: China 1-3 Syria highlights - 2016 AFC U-23 Championship
There may be some opposition from the clubs, but I am sure the officials at the Chinese Football Association can take care of that.
It does, though, somewhat go against the new rule for 2017 which force every Super League side to play at least one Chinese under-23 player in their starting 11 for each match.
This is the rule that SIPG coach Villas-Boas is following, but also testing to its limits by playing teenager defender Zhang Huachen from the start of all three games so far this season but then making a “tactical’ decision to withdraw the 19-year-old in the first half.
That means Zhang has amassed just 62 minutes in three games before being replaced on two occasions by Yu Hai and once by Cai Huikang, both who are national team players, including the weekend’s 3-2 defeat by Evergrande.
Watch: Guangzhou Evergrande 3-2 Shanghai SIPG highlights
Villas-Boas has every right to do this, he is not the only one, but it does little for the development of Chinese players.
Would teenager Zhang be better off getting regular games at a lower level in League One rather than looking over his shoulder waiting for the signal to trot back over to the bench in the first half of every game?
The idea of having the Olympic team play in League One might work and hats off to officials for trying something, just like they have done with the under-23 rule in the Super League, just don’t give the coaches job to Villas-Boas.