Chinese and Brazilian football go back a long way. All the way to 1997, when famed Brazilian coach Edson Tavares moved to the country to coach Guangzhou Matsunichi. Tavares, who played a major role in modernising football in China, went on to coach Shenzhen Ping An, Guangzhou Apollo, Chongqing Lifan and Shenzhen Ruby.
In 2000, the Chinese Football Association asked him to draft a plan to make the sport more professional.
Tavares responded with a 78-page dossier detailing proposals such as mandating clubs to build at least three training facilities. At the time, he recalls, many Chinese clubs didn’t even have showers. “The Chinese now have the best football infrastructure in the world,” Tavares says with unmistakable pride.
He also suggested certification for coaches and referees, and tax exemptions of up to 75 per cent for investments in football. The latter idea made a great difference, though the government capped exemptions at 40 per cent.
“Thanks to that, teams can save millions of dollars with which they are able to hire top players,” he says.
Tavares says he also pointed out the need for clubs to create a system for spotting and developing talent. Chinese clubs now have their own football schools, including one in Brazil, largely because of his recommendations.
Watch: Inside China’s football player factory
There’s only one thing Tavares, 59, regrets – declining an invitation to coach the Chinese national team in 2000. Apart from Brazil, he has worked in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Vietnam, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Haiti, but China remains his favourite and he flies to Guangzhou every year to teach at the Adidas Football School. The school has 730 pupils in the 12-20 age group.
Tavares thinks that Ramires, who arrived at Jiangsu Suning in January after stints at Chelsea and Benfica, has done an outstanding job, but he is otherwise unimpressed by the influx of Brazilian starts into China.
“Looking at the performance of the clubs where Brazilians play, you realise that they haven’t been very helpful,” he says.