A new philosophy – European football in Chinese

The Chinese Sports Strategists project is the result of many years of cooperation between several partners in Germany and the People’s Republic of China. Nevertheless, launching the project also meant a change for many of those involved – most notably for the coaches who travelled to China to work with young groups of different ages during the two-month test run. “It was a great opportunity,” says project leader Jianbo He. The plan was as follows: During the test phase, European coaches should, along with their Chinese counterparts, lay the foundations for long-term cooperation in order to improve Chinese football at grass roots level. A great change – for the coaches, too.

An unfamiliar situation

“I’ve never been here before,” says coach Gazmend Xhepa, who experienced a small but positive cultural shock. “The people here are so friendly to us, they often wanted to take photos with us. There are not so many foreigners over here.” “Here” is the Changzhou region, a place that Dennis Spiegel, too, will remember for a long time. For the long-serving youth coach from Hannover 96 football club, the move to China was also a completely new experience. “I was greeted by friendly people with great hospitality and big hearts,” is how the coach describes the start of the test phase. However, there was not much time to settle in after the first meeting – after all, there was plenty to do. “After the opening ceremony, I met my team for the first time. There were fewer girls than I had in my notes and I quickly realised that I would not get very far with my English. Because the girls spoke only Chinese.”

“A ball connects”

That was true for most of the squads of Gazmend Xhepa and the third coach in the team, Marco Almeida, who, however, had a small advantage: “As a player, I played in China; one year in Hong Kong. The language is not the same – they speak Cantonese – but I learned it quite quickly. So I managed to communicate with my players very well,” says Marco Almeida, who, like the rest of the team, could rely on interpreters. The availability of interpreters “made things a lot easier” according to Dennis Spiegel, who likewise quickly tried to come to grips with the language. During the training, the language did not pose any major problems, especially after the first few weeks. “Football always speaks the same language, no matter where you come from. A ball connects.”

So the first hurdle had been cleared. But the differences went deeper than just the language. “The biggest difference is the mentality,” says Marco Almeida, who knows the Chinese training methods from his time as a player. In China, football is seen only as a sport, less as a game – a totally different view to that of our coaches. Read the next post to find out how that affected the training!