Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Can China achieve its goal of becoming a major soccer power?

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Jonathan Sullivan

Jonathan Sullivan says developing the domestic league to catch players young and creating high-quality entertainment with foreign recruits to get fans into stadiums and secure TV deals will be key factors

A series of audacious player signings and investments in European clubs has put China’s soccer ambitions on the map. As soccer fans around the world are now aware, China has decided to become a soccer power and, as it usually does, is putting its money where its mouth is.

At home, the Chinese Super League has been reanimated and a huge amount of money earmarked for infrastructure, training facilities and expertise that China hopes will eventually improve the fortunes of the national team. At the same time, Chinese investors have been on a shopping spree across Europe, buying controlling stakes in clubs, notably in the English Premier League and Spanish La Liga.

The approach to becoming a soccer power has some similarities with other ambitious state-sanctioned projects, notably massive, rapid investment in infrastructure. The “build it and they will come” strategy has had mixed results. It served the manufacturing boom well, but it has also led to huge overcapacity in housing, steel and other sectors.

As with other somewhat nebulous ambitions (the Belt and Road, the Chinese Dream), the leadership has sketched out a vision to become a “major soccer power”, while the planning and implementation is largely left to government bureaus, provincial governments, state-owned enterprises and private businesses. With such an ambitious project, a lack of a concrete plan and a multiplicity of actors (often with their own motivations), things can go wrong.

What does it mean for China to become a “major soccer power”? Parsing statements thus far, the definition of a major football power would mean qualifying regularly for World Cups, hosting a World Cup, winning the Asian Champions League and perhaps the World Club Championship. It will involve huge state investment in infrastructure (training pitches, academies, etc), and acolytes in business (like Suning and Evergrande) investing huge sums (in this case, on players).

Is this model likely to turn China into a soccer power?

First, there is no doubt that China can build the infrastructure and put together the convincing commercial proposal needed to host a World Cup. Given the success of the Beijing Olympics and the government’s total commitment when it decides to host an event, this should be the easiest ambition to achieve.

Second, with the investment in prime coaching and playing talent from Europe and South America, Chinese teams will be competitive in the Asian Champions League and World Club Championship. Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao has already won the former twice in the past four years.

Third, systematic development of youth training academies, pitches, referees and a decent league structure may improve the national team’s success on the pitch. State investment and targeted nurturing of talent led to dominance of the Beijing Olympic medal table. Not long ago, we would never have considered Chinese snooker players – now there are many in the top echelons. There are Chinese golfers, tennis players, basketball players – sports outside China’s traditional sporting culture and excellence. There is no inherent reason why the men’s soccer team shouldn’t improve significantly, at least in Asia.

However, for football to really succeed, China needs to foster widespread public interest in the game – not just following and betting on European professional leagues and the big international tournaments. Kids need to play the game and progress through youth leagues to professional academies. For that to happen, China desperately needs to foster interest in the domestic league – with no one watching, it is financially unsustainable, even with rich backers. The Chinese Super League needs to generate high-quality entertainment on the pitch, and it needs good foreign players to do so.

The high fees that have been used to recruit top players suggest the league is being taken seriously this time, after a number of false starts. Chinese clubs are owned by state-owned enterprises and big private firms with substantial cash reserves, and they can afford to buy these players to make a big impact rapidly. It isn’t a terrible strategy, but it isn’t sustainable without a more holistic approach to developing and growing the league by getting fans into the stadiums and securing a good TV deal.

Japan’s J-League and the US Major League Soccer have shown that it takes time for football to take root – but both have made decent returns. Both country’s men’s teams perform well in regional international competitions and participate regularly in World Cups. Both have hosted a World Cup and have healthy youth participation, especially among women – who also do very well in national competitions. After nurturing a “soccer culture” over a long period, both have thriving, albeit niche, domestic leagues. It took many years of concerted soft and hard investment to get to this point. We shouldn’t expect things to be smoother for China – but neither should we doubt that they can attain a similar level of success.

But is that level of success what Xi Jinping (習近平) has in mind? Would his apparent special interest be sated by attaining the relatively modest achievements of Japan and the US? Given that the Chinese men’s team is 78th in the Fifa rankings (the US is 26th, Japan 49th), I think it is a sensible and attainable goal.

Aside from Xi’s evident personal interest in soccer, there is another reason for growing the game. China is trying to generate a more positive image, and pursuing all kinds of “soft power” initiatives, but many have fallen flat. It is very difficult for an authoritarian state to engender the “seduction” at the heart of “soft power” through top-down initiatives. Others, particularly in the cultural realm, have fallen flat due to differences in taste, and the difficulties in “translating China for global consumption”.

Soccer, on the other hand, is straightforward. With a few exceptions, soccer is the world’s game and doesn’t need any “translation”. And for the countries with strong national teams and/or exciting national leagues, the “soft power” benefits are big. To date, China’s (men’s) national team has been an embarrassment and the Chinese Super League an afterthought. But there is hope that one day fans in the UK or Spain might wear the colours of Jiangsu Suning or Hebei China Fortune, just as Chinese fans now sport Manchester United or Barcelona shirts.

Dr Jonathan Sullivan is director of the China Policy Institute, School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham


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Why China’s lack of success against Hong Kong on the football field isn’t its most vexing problem in sport

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Zhengxu Wang

Zhengxu Wang says in their angst over the national football team, the Chinese are missing a far bigger problem in sport – the lack of mass participation

Last week was extraordinary for football fans in China. On Tuesday, the national team drew with Hong Kong, eliminating any realistic chance of moving into the second phase of the qualifying matches for the 2016 World Cup. Then, at the weekend, Guangzhou Evergrande won the Asian Champions League trophy, with a 1-0 victory over United Arab Emirates’ Al Ahli in the final.

All around the country, fans have found it difficult to reconcile the excitement of Evergrande’s victory, the second in three years, with the embarrassment of the national team at the hands of Hong Kong. Those old enough will recall that this is not the first time a critical match leading to World Cup qualification has ended in discomfort for a proud Chinese national team at the hands of Hong Kong.

It was on May 19, 1985, that the overwhelming favourites, the Chinese national team, were defeated 2-1 by Hong Kong. Having reached the final of the Asian Cup the year before, it was probably the best national team that Chinese football has had, boasting star players such as Gu Guangming, Zhao Dayu, and Jia Xiuquan. Indeed, the team had even defeated the world’s top football team, Argentina, the year before at the Nehru Cup in India, a feat Chinese football probably wouldn’t dare to dream about again in the foreseeable future.

Fans found it hard to stomach the defeat by the Hong Kong team, which represented a British colony on a tiny island. Riots broke out that evening near the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing, and the People’s Armed Police were called out to quell the trouble.

Since then, the numbers “5-19” have symbolised the Waterloo of Chinese football.

Certainly, it has not helped that cultural and political tensions between the mainland and Hong Kong have been running high of late. Neither has it helped that China has been doing very well in many other sports, harvesting Olympic medals in large numbers, never mind at the Asian Games and East Asian Games. Even disciplines traditionally dominated by Western athletes, such as sprint swimming, have seen breakthroughs by Chinese athletes.

All this must be put into perspective. First, despite the public fever it continues to inspire, football is just another sport, nothing more.

While national teams are competing to qualify for the World Cup, world governing body Fifa is finding it impossible to extricate itself from the largest corruption scandal in its history. Sepp Blatter, the organisation’s long-time chief, has succeeded in turning the four-yearly celebration of the best in the sport into an event synonymous with bribery and secret deals.

Football leagues around the world, meanwhile, have always been plagued by triad infiltration and gambling. Even the most successful leagues – England’s Premier League, La Liga in Spain, and Serie A in Italy – have, sadly, all been monetised and are more or less slaves to commercialism. Except for the extremely rich clubs, most teams in these leagues will never be able to compete for national and European titles.

Indeed, Evergrande’s success reflects more the power of money than the improvement in Chinese football. Barely two days after the club’s victory, Xinhua published a commentary criticising the company for bad business ethics and letting commercial motivation ruin the sport.

Monetisation sees to it that, despite having the world’s most successful league, England can seldom produce a championship-winning national team. And football stars, in the style of David Beckham, have become increasingly indistinct from celebrities in the entertainment industry.

Why should an individual or nation be so obsessed with such a sport?

The other, more critical, perspective is that, despite the national sports squads’ extraordinary Olympic performances and the large number of spectators both in stadiums and in front of the TV, individual Chinese participation rates in sport is extremely low. Today’s young people in China are doing very little physical activity on a daily basis. Combine this with a new urban lifestyle and high calorie intake, and the net result is an increasingly high incidence of obesity and other diseases.

Chinese lack opportunities to get involved in sport from a young age, and maintain such involvement later in life. Besides the required two sessions of physical education a week, many students, especially females, stay away from sports.

Schools and universities only play a role in promoting competitive sports, involving a tiny number of student athletes, who are considered different from normal students.

In the UK, anyone can join university- or community-based societies to play an array of sports. And it is very clear that students from Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and other places have played many kinds of sport before they go to study in the UK. By contrast, mainland Chinese students, while large in number, show very little interest or skill in many sports.

The structural imbalance in China – a successful competitive sports sector, alongside sparse participation by the public – must be corrected. While the national government is now set to promote youth participation in football, the obsession should not be World Cup qualification, but to change the reality on the ground so that sports are for everyone.

Zhengxu Wang is an academic at the University of Nottingham who participates in various sports, including marathons and triathlons

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上周,前曼聯領隊費格遜(Ferguson)在一個私人午宴上公開表示,他看好李斯特城奪得今屆英超聯賽冠軍錦標,還揚言李斯特城可以不用打最後3場賽事已奪標。私人午宴,沒有記者在場,他毋須口是心非,亦毋須打「心理戰」(mind game),是以外界都相信這是他的肺腑之言。



李斯特城對紐卡素一仗,球員已有點患得患失。素以好好先生見稱的領隊雲尼亞里(Claudio Ranieri),半場休息時竟在更衣室大發雷霆,可見「近鄉情更怯」,愈接近奪標,壓力便愈大。



二戰後,曼聯經歷過一番風雨和大震盪,可惜球會高層沒有吸取歷史教訓。1945年,畢士比爵士(Sir Matt Busby)出任領隊,帶來曼聯第一個黃金時代。可惜在1958年,球隊乘飛機赴慕尼黑比賽途中遇上空難,主力球員幾全數罹難。



事後檢討,曼聯沒有好好的為接班安排妥當。畢士比退而不休,一而再地損繼任領隊的權威,是最大的敗筆。費格遜退休,曼聯重蹈覆轍,人去政息,雖依然財雄,卻喪掉費格遜時代的足球「哲學」和傳統,雖要等待另一個出色領隊出現,才能鳳凰火中重生!反之,於1970年代崛起的利物浦,領隊新基利(Bill Shankly)1974年退休後,球會狠下心腸,嚴禁他踏足訓練球場觀操,亦不許他過問球會事宜,新基利鬱鬱而終。


利物浦的領隊接班人因而可大權在握,建立了「球靴房」制度,領隊由派士利(Bob Paisley)到費根(Joe Fagan)再到杜格利殊(Kenny Dalglish),稱霸英國乃至歐洲十多年。若非在1985年發生「希素球場慘劇」,引致杜格利殊辭職,利物浦的霸業未必從此夭折!




周二深夜,看歐冠盃曼城對基輔戴拿模,比賽乏善可陳。令人唏噓的是,曾光輝一時的基輔戴拿模,與後費格遜時代的曼聯同病相憐,將軍一去,大樹飄零,仍未走出前任領隊盧賓諾夫斯基(Valeriy Lobanovskyi)的陰影!

盧賓諾夫斯基是少數入選足球名人榜(Hall of Fame)的東歐領隊之一。東歐一直想在政治、經濟、文化等各個方面追上西歐。二戰後,蘇聯和東歐陣營以「舉國體制」發展足球,務求跟西歐爭一日長短。





現時流行的中場體力化緊迫和反緊迫的戰術,可說師承盧賓諾夫斯基。憑這個打法,基輔戴拿模在他領軍的20年裏,贏得12屆聯賽冠軍,9屆杯賽冠軍,並且兩奪歐洲盃賽冠軍盃(Cup-Winners’ Cup)。此輝煌成績,並無其他東歐球隊可望其項背!可惜,他辭世至今14年,幾任接班人沿用一貫戰術,徒然東施效顰;創新戰術,卻畫虎不成,以致基輔戴拿模已給薩克達比下去了!

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答案是南寧加(Dick Nanninga),即在1978年世界盃決賽,阿根廷對荷蘭,為荷蘭頂入扳平1:1那一球的那位高大前鋒,當時他來港效力的是班霸精工,且不是客串幾場,而是踢了一個完整球季。况且,當時精工請來的不單止是南寧加一個,還有其他荷蘭退役國腳但仍當打的球星,例如中場迪莊(Theo de Jong)、海恩(Arie Haan)、連尼加賀夫(Rene van de Kerkhof)、穆倫(Gerrie Muhren)、後防韋伯(Joop Wildbret)等等。其中海恩、迪莊(後備身分入替)、連尼加賀夫(後備身分入替),曾於1974年世界盃決賽上過陣;而海恩和連尼加賀夫,又與南寧加(後備身分入替),於1978年世界盃決賽上過陣。七十年代,荷蘭的「全能足球」風靡全球,而黃創山和精工,便是這樣把荷蘭的全能足球帶到香港,我認為當年的香港球迷實在要深深感謝他們,真的可以說前無古人,我相信亦後無來者。

除了這些荷蘭外援之外,港人愛看英國波,最多人擁戴曼聯,而曼聯當年的星級中堅哥頓麥昆(Gordon McQueen),一樣也來過精工效力一季。

至於寶路華,最著名的,是踢過阿仙奴7季的鋒將查理佐治(Charlie George),可惜他是帶傷來港,表現因此平平。但另一位克捷臣(Tommy Hutchison),則是我見過最好波的外援之一,不單速度快,扭波更像跳芭蕾舞般優雅,把對方後防玩弄於雙腳之上,而且他也大有來頭,不單是蘇格蘭國腳,更在1981年的英格蘭足總盃決賽代表曼城上陣,更入過波。






讀中學時,我的學業成績不俗,於是也有點空閒時間可以打發,但當時沒有電腦,更遑論online game,電視也不會像今天般全天候轉播歐洲和世界各地的足球,剛巧我居住和讀書都在港島東區,於是政府大球場睇波,便自然而然成了我的課餘消遣之一。就算不能入場,晚上在家裏扭開收音機,邊聽波邊做功課邊溫習,陪我度過無數個少年苦悶的晚上。






只要有足球,Impossible Is Nothing



我記得,2006年世界盃時,adidas推出了電視廣告「Impossible Is Nothing」。廣告裏兩個孩子Jose和Pedro,透過「猜包剪揼」來揀人,組建他們心目中最偉大的球隊,再行對壘比賽。






















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Hong Kong Economic Journal
C01 | 今日焦點 | 忽然文化 | By 占飛 |




足球和體育一樣,「舉國體制」可以搞出一支優秀的國家隊,「市場經濟」也可以,可惜未見經濟學家詳細深入的分析這個問題。以「舉國體制」來說,「錢用對地方」的話,1966 年的北朝鮮可以產生一支震驚世界的國家隊。蘇聯國家隊在冷戰初期一直是歐洲的強隊,1989年後才沒落以至消失。1960年的歐國盃,蘇聯奪得冠軍,四年後衞冕失敗,但也得亞軍。那支國家隊接着在1966年的世界盃得第四。其後,蘇聯在1972年的歐國盃得亞軍,1988年歐國盃不敵荷蘭得第二。荷蘭的尹巴士頓(Van Basten)在決賽射入世界波,現時在YouTube還可看到,名列歐國盃有史以來十大最精采入球之一。



1998 及2002 年,德國足總分別推行了兩個發掘人才的項目。現時效力皇馬的基迪亞(Khedira)、拜仁慕尼黑的馬里奧葛斯(Goetze),都由此得益,八歲便加入青少訓。另外,DFB亦頒令每間職業球會都要設立青少訓中心,並且按照嚴格的規定訓練青少年球員,改善球場設施、提高教練水平、組織各年歲的青少年聯賽等等。球會當然反對要花額外的金錢,但德國足總硬來,任何職業球會違反規定,便開除出「聯邦聯賽」。




西班牙有12,720個國際足協的甲級教練,英格蘭只有1,161 個。西班牙有職業牌的教練逾二千,英格蘭只有二百,是西班牙的十分一。試問,英格蘭教出的優秀青少年球員人數,怎可以跟西班牙相比?