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Interview: "China has to be patient in football": Eckhard Krautzun

By Oliver Trust

BERLIN, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Former Chinese youth team head coach Eckhard Krautzun shared his opinions about Chinese soccer.

Xinhua: Mr. Krautzun, we hope you don't mind if we start with the easiest question we can think of.

Krautzun: (Smiling) I'm listening.

Xinhua: When do you expect China will win the World Cup?

Krautzun: You call that an easy question? I honestly have doubts that any Asian country will win the World Cup in the next 10 years basically because many countries in Asia lack professionalism and basics and general conditions and the ability to catch up with the pace at which the game is played by the world's top teams.

Xinhua: Is the pace the main problem?

Krautzun: As for the pace played by the world's best, you have to say that it's almost impossible to play at that speed in hot and humid climates like the ones in most parts of Asia. And then there are many more reasons like coaching and regular competition. One is the coaching skills.

Xinhua: That might be the situation at the moment, but what can be done by a sports nation like China to improve?

Krautzun: The right step has been taken by President Xi Jinping. China has to build a pyramid of success starting with a coaching system right from the bottom, meaning in the schools. It is coming late but not too late. The mistake in the past maybe is to set up a league like the Super League but at the same time to neglect junior coaching and youth development. Things have turned around now and coaches will have to be trained as well.

Xinhua: So China will have the chance to improve as a football nation and let's say become successful?

Krautzun: Considering its population plus the financial potential and the organization talent, China will become Asia's No. 1, I have no doubt about that.

Xinhua: Could one problem in China be that you have, other than in successful football countries like Spain, France, England and Germany, more of a school or college system than a club system?

Krautzun: In a huge country like China it's extremely difficult to implement a similar club system. Some of China's pro clubs have set up youth academies, but the general problem in the near future will be: Who is training China's school teachers and football coaches. I recommend they get the world's best coaches for the job. At the moment, it's more of a case that coaches with a big reputation are employed by China's senior pro teams. So get back to the roots because that's where the talented youngsters are. You need to know one thing ...

Xinhua: Now we're listening.

Krautzun: In the end you need a national team that is winning something. You basically don't get anywhere by signing foreign stars who don't always deliver what you expect from a star. And your national team won't win anything if you don't do everything to support your youngsters with a solid and methodical coaching system. If you manage to do that, football in China might be able to beat basketball as China's number one sport and table tennis in the future.

Xinhua: The main task is not only to find football talents, but coaching talents?

Krautzun: There are three to four things that have to be done: First train the coaches, the primary school teachers have to learn grass roots football, secondly an efficient scouting system has to be started and then a nationwide league system has to be set up for juniors. At the moment you only have regional tournaments. Lastly Chinese clubs or the football association should send as many talented players and teams to foreign countries, to Europe or South America, to get competition against the best youth teams.

Xinhua: At the moment, the football world is talking about Chinese clubs signing stars from all over the world. Do you think the strategy will help or are the foreign stars blocking the chances for Chinese youngsters?

Krautzun: Twenty years ago the North American league made the mistake of only buying foreign stars instead of putting in place an efficient coaching system for juniors. It did not succeed, the league broke down. Now two decades later they have come to the conclusion that it is better to have a youth coaching system in colleges and start with very modest salaries for players in the pro league.

In China at the moment the rules are clear, you are allowed to have four players on the pitch over the 90 minutes. The difference in China, compared to the mistakes the Americans made 20 years ago, is that they have started coaching football in the schools. It will never work out without taking such a step. If both are done, foreign stars and youth coaching, it can be successful. If you look at Guangzhou Evergrande, they have won the Asian Championship with outstanding performances and players and an outstanding coaching stuff. So if you get into a situation whereby Chinese youngsters can learn from foreign stars then things will be positive, but you have to avoid foreign stars blocking your own talents.

Xinhua: So you are sure China has the skilled players that can develop to top class players?

Krautzun: Let us go back to 2005 when I was in charge of the Chinese under 19 team. We scouted the best Chinese players with four German scouts and in a short time, which was amazing, the youngsters developed to an amazing level and played a great World Cup in the Netherlands against the best Youth teams in the world. Eight of these players became senior internationals which is an excellent number and its shows there's a lot of talented players in China. But you have to find them and teach them modern football with methodical coaching and then the country will be able to compete with any team in the world.

Xinhua: What in your opinion happened after 2005? China's football has not managed to have similar success. Did China's football make the mistake of stopping, let's say, half way?

Krautzun: It's something I can't understand. But another important thought comes to my mind. If you want to be successful, your national team has to win something. But the Chinese national team has not yet won anything. The people are watching the English Premier League on TV in every bar, they watch the Italian, the Spanish and the German leagues and say: "This is football, but the way our team is playing we won't even qualify for the Asia champs let alone the World Cup."

Let's take Germany for instance. The national team has to be successful so the people can fall in love with the team. You have to produce idols for the youngsters and are famous like China has managed to do in basketball. That is, by the way, the reason why basketball grew so fast in China. The country's players made it into the NBA and became idols back home. In football you don't see Chinese footballers in Europe or any other major league. Europe's leagues are full of Korean and Japanese players, but no Chinese unfortunately.

Xinhua: At the moment, you see a lot of European clubs taking an interest in Chinese football ...

Krautzun: They see the enormous potential of the Chinese market, especially in terms of marketing potential and the amount of people. The club that manages to sign a Chinese player who becomes a regular squad member will have enormous success in China. We need Chinese players abroad to promote football in China so they should play in the top European teams.

Xinhua: You mentioned the size of China as a country which makes it difficult to have one league as the players would spend so much time travelling. Do you see a solution?

Krautzun: I don't see it as a big problem for the first division but it will be problematical in the lower leagues. Therefore regional leagues are needed, like the ones we have in Germany. And that is where junior coaching will have to be done. Regionally you need to have a second league, a third and so on. And you need the same in junior and youth football, starting from an early age from six to ten. You can't rely totally on the youth coaching provided by the professional teams in China. You have to implement a system in the lower regions.

Xinhua: Sounds like a big challenge.

Krautzun: Of course it is, but there are solutions if you follow the right steps. Meaning: You need regional leagues for juniors and seniors. Organizing and administering is the big challenge. The problem in China at the moment is, since Chinese President Xi Jinping declared his hopes for an improvement in China's football, everybody in Europe and the rest of the world thinks we can make a lot of money in China. Look at the clubs, they are spending millions on players. Football schools are being set up everywhere under the banner of foreign clubs or sponsors. But to be honest: I doubt that all these people are qualified enough or interested enough in Chinese football. Many are just doing it for their financial interests.

Xinhua: So China, as a sports nation, and the football association has to support young Chinese talents themselves?

Krautzun: China is so big. Initially it doesn't matter if you have lots of coaches from different countries like Spain, Germany, England, Brazil or the Netherlands. But what is essential is that China has to develop a Chinese football style or philosophy. China has to find its own style and not copy a style from abroad. In the past they employed a Spanish coach, a French one, a Chinese coach, then they tried to get a German coach ...

Xinhua: Too many cooks around ...

Krautzun: I don't think it works when you have a Spanish national coach, your technical director comes from Germany, the under 23 coach from Brazil. That will not work. The Chinese culture, the Chinese physiognomy has to be considered, the Chinese will never play like Spaniards or Germans. Coaches coming from abroad have to adjust to the Chinese way, mentality, culture, structure and climate. But it's hard to do when you yourself don't have enough know-how.

Xinhua: What would the Chinese football style have to be?

Krautzun: The physique of a Chinese man is different to a European man as far as the morphology is concerned. Considering that in 2005, we tried to play fast one or two touch football in order to avoid the physicality of stronger European players. We played quick and skillful football which became very popular in China. The Chinese players were able to learn that style in a short time, which surprised a lot of people.

Xinhua: So China's football has to be fast with a few touches of the ball?

Krautzun: I think that could be the way. The Chinese players generally are very skillful and athletic. In football you don't have to be tall like in basketball. In football you might only have to look for two tall central defenders. The world's top players are generally not that tall. The wonderful advantage of football is that independent of weight or size, everybody can play it. But overall, at first you have to find the players. This means you have to set up a scouting system alongside administration, a league system and coaching.

Xinhua: Is there a special approach in football coaching that is different to other sports?

Krautzun: Chinese youngsters should not have to do some sort of drill training. In other sports coaches and youngsters are used to drill training. Football is not about drill training. It is about being creative, have intuition, to improvise, to find solutions on the pitch which does not follow a given pattern. That is what young teachers and coaches in China might have to learn from the start.

Xinhua: Can you go into greater detail please.

Krautzun: If you deliver patterns using drills, players don't start to think for themselves on the pitch. This is called cognitive training, it's about learning to be creative and imaginative. There are many exercises that help. Drills won't be successful. If you have two teams of a similar standard, the team with more individual class and creativity will win. If it is 0-0, you need a Ronaldo, a Messi, they come up with something spectacular and decide the game. Table tennis or tennis are different. In football you always have an opponent that is tackling and charging you. That's why you have to train young players to be able to find solutions using their intelligence. It's something that has to be done at an early age. They have to find solutions when under pressure and in little space, meaning anticipation, perception and orientation. It's the secret of modern football.

Xinhua: So the right coaching is another secret of football.

Krautzun: The secret about youth coaching is not to follow a rigid plan you found on the internet.20-minute warm-up, 20 minutes of passing, 20 minutes of shooting practise. It's about designing a training session that is fun and where players' mistakes are corrected. Many football coaches in China don't correct players, they don't stop the game and tell the players where to run or where to play the ball and they can't demonstrate what has to be done.

Xinhua: But that's something you get from experience.

Krautzun: From experience, or if you were once a top player or you get good instructors from abroad so the young teachers can watch and learn. They should watch and observe local and top international matches at a high level. The match tells you what you have to teach and to coach. Later they can teach youngsters the right and more sensible way. To design a training session, you have to be creative yourself. Young players, from an early age, like to be challenged but it has to be done in the right way.

Xinhua: So you see a lot of football potential in China?

Krautzun: No doubt, it's enormous. I tell you one thing: Some North American basketball officials are already on red alert because they see football as a major threat or a serious rival to basketball in China. I think that says more about China's potential in football than anything else.

Xinhua: Will you be part of the nationwide coaching system in China?

Krautzun: I have offers to come to China on a regular basis and teach five or six times a year. Together with the German FA (DFB) we intend to teach and educate 1000 elementary school teachers in grass roots and as well as in elite youth football. I shall be accompanied by a German FA coach. There are plans that are close to being announced that four cities in China will get special support from the German FA. We intend several thousand teachers. Besides training the teachers we intend an exchange between Germany and China between youth teams and clubs. From doing so the Chinese coaches could learn from our excellent German youth development program.

Xinhua: To teach football is one thing, but to organize the entire system is another challenge.

Krautzun: The football association and the Ministry of Education and the sports departments in the provinces have to work together. This is the biggest challenge for such a huge country like China. You need provincial directors that can do that, and follow the philosophy of your association. For example one of the most important aims in the coaching development program for China should be the licensing of all coaches. There are already a lot of excellent Chinese coaches who have been trained and educated in various countries including courses organized by FIFA and AFC. The many Chinese coaches with international licenses should be intensively involved in the training for thousands of elementary school teachers.

Xinhua: So what is the biggest problem for an elementary school teacher having to teach football?

Krautzun: That is he does not know who is a talented player and who is not. And that he can't correct the players or demonstrate the exercise. And to get support to set up training lessons without too many drills as mentioned earlier.

Xinhua: Can China's football benefit from other sports?

Krautzun: This should be a key part of football coaching, one shouldn't only play football. Junior players should do many other sports in order learn anticipation, coordination, perception and so on. At the age of ten or 12 you then specialize. So you can learn from other sports like basketball, hockey, judo, Kungfu, Wushu or Wuyi and so on.

Xinhua: And now our easy question from the beginning again ...

Krautzun: (laughing) In five years China could be Asia's No. 1 and in ten they could be a part of the World Cup top teams.

Xinhua: Football fans and officials in China have to be patient.

Krautzun: (laughing) Like everywhere.

Xinhua: Last one now, promise.

Krautzun: I don't mind. I love football and China.

Xinhua: What from your perspective does football give to young people?

Krautzun: Why is football the most popular game in the world? Because everybody can play and understand it. The rules are simple. The equipment is quite cheap, shorts, shirts, socks, shoes. And the game itself is about winning the ball and scoring and then getting the ball back and defending. Everyone can follow that. It's fast, creative, unpredictable - sometimes it is like a work of art. In addition there are so many emotions. An underdog can beat a favorite. Discussions afterwards. At home, in the bars, in the schools, on the streets - fantastic. And above all it is a team sport - it teaches young players social behavior at an early age. It is to educate young people, you get to know what fairness means, what helping your friend means, what is respect and it helps you to get a strong personality.

Xinhua writers Shen Zhengning and Rao Bo contributed to this report.

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