'Godfather' unveils master plan

China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-01 07:19

Coaching guru Xu building Chongming club from scratch to help China realize its global goals

SHANGHAI - Xu Genbao is known as the "Godfather of Shanghai soccer."

Now 73, the former player and manager for China's national team, who owns a side in the Spanish league, is now tackling his toughest assignment yet: forming a club from scratch to help China become a competitive force in world soccer.

Some of the biggest names in Chinese soccer, including international winger Wu Lei, were at the recent launch of the new Chongming Genbao Football Club.

Wu was once dubbed "China's Maradona" by Xu, the man who discovered him and many others now playing in the Chinese Super League.

"You are always telling me to retire and to be honest, I really want to," Xu, sporting his trademark dark glasses, told journalists at the launch at a Shanghai hotel.

But Xu looks nowhere near as old as his years - he turns 74 in January - and now is not the time to quit the soccer scene in China.

Under President Xi Jinping China is investing millions of yuan in ramping up the quality of the domestic game.

CSL clubs have invested vast amounts of cash in foreign stars, such as Shanghai SIPG shelling out $72 million to sign Brazilian Oscar and Shanghai Shenhua spending $41 million to sign Argentine Carlos Tevez.

China is also forging partnerships with clubs and soccer associations across the globe to help boost the level of youth players, and Xu wants to play his part.

"Today we have all five generations in the same room," Xu said at the launch of Chongming Genbao, referring to an array of past, present and perhaps future soccer stars.

"Our goal is to combine our forces for the betterment of Chinese football.

"I hope that Shanghai can produce more talent to contribute to the nation and get good results for the national team."

Spanish connection

Known for having a temper, Xu has reigned over soccer in Shanghai for three decades.

After ending his playing career, he coached several Chinese clubs, including Shanghai Shenhua.

But his passion was always for youth development, and in 2000 he founded Genbao Football Base, a center of excellence on Chongming Island, northeast of Shanghai.

Xu was inspired by Manchester United and its commitment to youth players, epitomized by the "Class of 92", the crop of homegrown stars that included Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes.

Using many graduates of his academy, in 2005 Xu founded a club called Shanghai East Asia and made himself president. For a while he also served as coach.

In 2013, Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) became the main sponsor and the club was rebranded Shanghai SIPG, with the team managed by ex-Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas in the season just ended.

But Xu's influence remains strong at SIPG and in Chinese soccer in general.

'Godfather' unveils master plan

Last year he widened his scope by purchasing Spanish outfit Lorca FC for a reported $1.7 million.

Lorca, in Spain's southeastern Murcia region, was soon promoted to the Segunda Division, a rung below Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga.

Reports in Spain and China suggested Xu was poised to sell, but he denies that and said at the launch of Chongming Genbao that he could use the Spanish club to help the develop talent coming through the new team.

"Maybe I will keep it (Lorca) and maybe it will come in handy," he said.

"Our players (at Chongming) are still too young and inexperienced. If they go and play for the Spanish team, the team will be relegated so I have to wait."

After Shanghai East Asia and Lorca, Xu will do it all over again at Chongming Genbao.

He is starting with a side of under-18s, players he hopes will one day go on to fulfil Xi's dream of making China a great soccer power.

Xu will oversee the project but leave the coaching of the team to a trusted lieutenant. "Let's not mention the CSL, let's play it step by step," he said, pleading for patience.

"Now the hardest leagues are the third and fourth because older players have all moved there. Getting promoted is much harder than before.

"My idea is to cultivate football stars. Only by making stars will there be hope for Chinese football to rise in quality.

"I hope there will be someone better than Wu Lei in the young ones so that Chinese football has hope for a World Cup."

Agence France - presse

 'Godfather' unveils master plan

Coach Xu Genbao's Shanghai Under-18 players draped him with their gold medals after defeating Sichuan for the National Games title in Tianjin in August.Provided to China Daily

(China Daily 12/01/2017 page22)

Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349