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More than just the “U23 policy”: an introduction to CFA’s new endeavor in developing football talent

By Nong Ruowen 23 Nov 2017

In the first half of 2017, a ground-breaking policy was introduced by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) regarding players under the age of 23 which triggered a heated discussion among all stakeholders in China. 

The official statement released on the CFA’s official website required, from the 2018 season onwards, that the accumulated appearances of Chinese domestic U23 football players (except Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan players) in each game of the Chinese Super League (CSL), China League (CL) and CFA Cup, must be the same as that of the collective appearances of overseas players in each match in the same season.

Given the lack of young football talent in China, it is not hard to understand the initial purpose of this policy which aims to further enhance the practice of bringing through young players into the professional football league and encourage football clubs to step up efforts to develop young talents, in order to enhance the development of Chinese football. 

However, when it comes to the implementation perspective, many sports practitioners are inclined to believe that there are still many questions to be answered. 

As the top two tiers of the Chinese football league, whether the CSL and the CL should be used as “training camps” for developing young players remains a subject that sports industrial professionals and practitioners keeps discussing. Some of them worry that this policy might not exactly benefit young players as it may make the games not as intriguing or competitive to watch as before. 

Although this controversial policy is still ongoing, the CFA have launched a set of new reform measures for young players, which seem more effective and sustainable than the current one in the perspective of developing young players for Chinese football. 

Last week, the CFA’s Deputy Chairman Li Yuyi introduced a new project establishing a youth training system in China for young players, consisting of “one communication mechanism, six types of training platforms and 5 actions”. 

According to Li, the “one communication mechanism” will engage football-related (especially campus-football-related) departments or offices of the State Council, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the CFA to discuss the project in bimonthly meetings. 

The “six types of training platforms” can be understood as places where young players can receive training and play in competitions. In the new training system, schools featuring football training courses and youth training centers are to be set up by 44 CFA’s branches in China, with the youth teams of professional football clubs acting as three of the “six types of training platforms”. 

Meanwhile, the CFA will encourage organizations in the private sector to offer youth training courses and programs, which will be considered the fourth type of platform. The fifth one is a database for those young players who have been receiving training abroad, which will enable the Chinese national football teams to recognize those players and then call them up in the future. 

The final platform but one of the most important is the national youth football league, Youth Super League (YSL). This year, the CFA along with the office for promoting campus football in the MOE have jointly launched the league in order to provide more opportunities for young players to improve their skills in competitive games. This nationwide league kicked off its first season on April 15, 2017, consisting of 3 age-groups (U14, U15 and U16) and consisted of 1,700 players from 87 teams, including 20 school teams.

In the future, the two groups will launch another league for U19 and U21 players from professional clubs, colleges, middle and high schools, as well as from training clubs set up by the private sector. If everything goes well, the league is expected to be launched by the end of 2017, according to a representative from the CFA. 

Based on the communication mechanism and six types of training platforms mentioned above, the CFA will complete the youth training system by following these five actions:

1. To offer more training courses and programs for football coaches of youth teams in China, in order to enhance their coaching abilities and skills.

2. To compile a syllabus for all youth football training organizations to design their coaching courses. 

3. To engage Chinese football legends to join football-related campaigns in schools, which allows them to give advice to young players and to teach them some basic football skills and ignite their interest in football as a career.  

4. To create a database of all young football players in China. 

5. To develop a competitive system of football competitions which is expected to be available to 10,000 players to take part. 

Generally, the new training system to be established by the CFA will act as a specialized “factory” in developing young players and seems a reasonable upgrade from the current situation. However, only time will tell whether it will really work. 

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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