The team behind the excellent Wild East Football blog on Chinese soccer do such a comprehensive job that, Beckham aside, I don’t often get around to focusing on what is still China’s most popular sport. But the farce that is China’s national team appears to have hit a new nadir. You might assume at this point that the only way is up, but with 114 teams currently ranked below China, there’s still plenty of room to underperform their own abysmal standards. Here is today’s Sports Talk column:
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, but Chinese soccer appears to be in a permanent blackout. Lurching out of the shadows of match-fixing and corruption, the national team stumbles from one defeat to the next.
President Xi Jinping has said he would like to see China qualify, host and win a World Cup – his footballing version of the Chinese Dream, perhaps – but, right now, that looks more like a Chinese Pipe Dream.
The men’s team registered their lowest-ever FIFA ranking earlier this year (109), and are now without a manager following a 5-1 humbling by a young Thai team (FIFA ranking: 142) in a match so bad that British bookmakers William Hill have reportedly said they won’t take any more bets on the Chinese team in the future.
And what of the women? They’re now the fifth-ranked team in Asia – 17th worldwide – way down from the glory years when it felt like they always had a chance to finish in the medals. From Olympic and World Cup runners-up in 1996 and 1999 respectively, they have failed to qualify for the last edition of each competition.
Domestically, the quality of the Chinese Super League (CSL) is improving, but Guangzhou Evergrande have turned the division into a one-horse race, winning the last two league titles and already nine points clear this year less than halfway through the season.
Meanwhile, the powers that be deem it worthwhile to pay David Beckham millions to promote the league. Just what is he promoting exactly? On his most recent trip to China – which barely made headlines except when there was a stampede or when Victoria went shopping – he made a few short passes to some schoolboys during the halftime break in a CSL match. The thousands in attendance cheered every touch, but it’s hard to see how that will have any effect whatsoever on the state of Chinese soccer.
Those with sense have been screaming from the rooftops about the need for grassroots change and a massive structural overhaul. Meanwhile, someone will no doubt be promoted for their damaging short-term decisions.
Another foreign extravagance, Jose Antonio Camacho, was put out of his misery 10 days ago when the Chinese FA terminated his contract as head coach of the men’s national team. As another chapter closes, maybe – just maybe – the next chapter will be a little brighter. But I doubt it.