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July 2021

Where exactly is football going? You’ll think I’ve made this up, but I promise I didn’t…

By Tony Attwood

Es geht immer noch absurder is the headline in which translates more or less as “It’s getting more and more absurd.”

And if you didn’t fancy the notion of Premier League under 23 squads competing against League One and League Two clubs in a league and cup competition as suggested a year or so ago in England, just look away now.

That venture (if I may remind you) became known as the Checkatrade Trophy and launched last season to much derision.  It was formerly known as the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy but changed sponsors as academy sides from the Premier League and Sky Bet Championship joined in.

The EFL said the Checkatrade Trophy “will give some of England’s brightest young talents the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills against EFL clubs.”

But for Germany this is all meek and mild stuff.  They like their innovations to move in different orbits, and so newspaper coverage of the latest change has started out by reminding us of the failed plan of entrepreneur Hans Viol to integrate the Cuban national team into German football.  Now the media suggests the plan has been modified somewhat so that China’s under-20 team is to participate in one of Germany’s regional fourth divisions.

Form reasons that have not become clear, at least not to me, only 19 teams have qualified for the regional southwest division of Germany’s fourth tier, and so what more logical and obvious solution could there be than to … invite China’s under 20 squad to fill the gap.

The Chinese like the idea because it allows China to prepare for the 2020 Summer Olympics.  The 19 German teams in the league agree because… well I suppose they think it might improve their crowds.

The DFB vice-president Ronny Zimmermann has said that whereas the Cuban notion was kicked into the extremely long grass, this time they are all in favour saying, “We need to see if the idea turns into reality. The managers of the southwest division will meet soon and we’d need to have a decision by then because that’s when we agree the fixture list.”

And “soon” means “soon” in Germany, not “soon” in FA speak which tends to invite us to consider a date somewhere in the 23rd century.   Everyone is already suggesting agreement and so the idea is to make the official announcement during the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Berlin on July 5.

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And there’s money in the project too (but of course).   Each team in the fourth division will get a guaranteed €15,000 payout from the Chinese FA for the two matches to be played by the Chinese team against each club in Germany.  In other words the Chinese team won’t be playing any games in China.

But of course there is a twist – because there always has to be a twist.   The China U20 team will be part of the regular fixture list, but… the results from their matches will not be included in the league table.  Although I am sure it will take only one game for the German media to start publishing a table with those results in.  The reality is simply that the Chinese team won’t be able to be promoted.

Much of this exploration comes from the agreement signed last year by Germany and the People’s Democratic Republic to help with the development of football in China.  The arrangements involved the German Football League, the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Chinese Soccer Association.

This all springs from a programme announced by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to develop football in China in order to build team spirit and co-operation.  His philosophical point was that most Chinese sport focused on individual excellence rather than team co-operation, and that more “working together” was needed to enhance the Chinese economy.

As a result of this philosophy China has been exploring similar ventures in other sports, with ice hockey side Kunlun Red Star joining the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in the build-up to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

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