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July 23, 2015

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At 71, Xu Genbao ready to launch club

SHANGHAI will get another football team this week when veteran coach Xu Genbao launches the city’s fourth club, Shanghai Chongming Genbao Football Club.

Xu is banking on young local talents, and hopes they will be ready for the National Sports Games, before the club vies for berth in China League Two, the country’s third-tier league.

“I hope the team can advance to China League One (second-tier league) by 2020,” said Xu, who is often hailed as the “godfather” of local soccer. “But it will be difficult than before as the league has vastly improved over the past few years.”

The 71-year-old is one of China’s best-known coaches and led Shanghai Shenhua to its only top-tier league title in 1995. He then spent a decade cultivating East Asia Football club (formerly Shanghai Youxian 02), which is now Shanghai SIPG, and stands on top of the Chinese Super League table.

East Asia was taken over by Shanghai International Shipping Group at the end last year. After a break of over six months, Xu decided to start all over again at his training base at Chongming with support from the local county.

“CSL teams are burning money (by bringing in expensive foreign players), and that is not what I can do. I shall continue with my old work, which is grooming young local talents for Shanghai and China.

“We will build a pyramid of football talent in Chongming, as grassroot work remains the key to Chinese football.”

Xu said his team had taken a look at some young players in local schools already. But the number of children keen to take up football as a career had fallen drastically in the past decade. “Fifteen years ago, I had a lot of choices. I could pick a side of 30 and form a team. Now, I only have some 30 youngsters to choose from. I don’t know yet if they are good enough.”

Xu set up his training center on Chongming Island in 2000 with the aim of “building China’s Manchester United in a decade.”

Fifteen years later, many of his proteges have made it to the national team such as Wu Lei, Cai Huikang, Yan Junling, Zhang Linfan and Jiang Zhipeng.

Wu, who plays for Shanghai SIPG, was the top Chinese scorer in the 2014 CSL season, while Zhang captained China’s Olympic team.

Chongming County boasts 100 school football teams and another 84 amateur teams.

The county government has come up with a three-year development plan, and one of them was having a professional football team by 2017. The local officials are hoping that football will become a name card for the county in the future.


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