With 28 years of grassroots coaching experience behind him, Gao Yuan has good reason to describe himself as one of the seed sowers of China”s soccer dream.
And he firmly believes those seeds are starting to sprout, even if the country’s senior side came up short in its latest attempt at World Cup qualification this year.
“The starting point of the country’s soccer landscape was like a desert, and for decades we have been sowing the seeds for the future,” said Gao, who is now the director of the soccer education and research department at Capital University of Physical Education and Sports in Beijing.
“If everyone can truly work for the good of the future generations, excellent Chinese soccer players will emerge. I’m not bragging. It will take time and I always have faith.”
Gao’s conviction is mirrored in numerous other long-toiling devotees of the game here.
A thousand kilometers away in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Wang Liangchao has been running a free soccer clinic for local children for over 20 years.
Kids aged 4 to 13 can join the clinic on weekends and vacations. Apart from their boots and uniform, tuition is free, with Wang referring to the initiative, which began in 1996, as “the light of hope” as far as the country’s fortunes on the pitch are concerned.
“The original purpose of starting a free soccer clinic was to attract more children to the game,” said Wang, who began his coaching career at Northwest University of Political Science and Law in 1991.
“This is just like a hope project in soccer. I want to start a process, which can be easily copied and spread by other coaches, to promote soccer among the younger generations. My youngest student was four years old.”
China’s grassroots efforts have not gone unnoticed, even earning international acclaim.
Last month, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) received the Asian Football Confederation’s President Recognition Award for Grassroots Football at the AFC’s annual gala in Thailand.
The award, which the CFA also won in 2013, recognizes the special attention China has paid to technical programs recently, with over 260 training courses involving around 17,000 participants conducted nationwide.