BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s new soccer supremo has fiercely defended a proposal to include the national under-21 team in the domestic Chinese Super League (CSL) from this season, despite derision from local media and fans.
Wei Di’s proposal is aimed at giving China’s future internationals more experience of training and playing together and thereby improving China’s chances of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup finals.
Domestic media have poured scorn on the plan, pointing out its contradictions, pillorying Wei for being an old-fashioned adherent of the Soviet-style sport system and suggesting he must have lost his senses.
“Some journalists said I must have been kicked in the head by a donkey,” Wei told Friday’s Yangtse Evening News.
“But I am not insulting anybody’s intelligence. This was not an off-the-cuff suggestion and it will be decided by a democratic vote.”
Wei, who assumed control at the Chinese Football Association (CFA) after the arrest of his predecessor for match-fixing in January, enjoyed huge Olympic success in his previous job as the nation’s head of water sports.
His plan calls for the under-21 squad to become the 17th team in the CSL, the under-19s to join division two and the under-17s to play in the third flight.
The national teams would play their games in midweek and would not appear in the league tables, although the results would count towards the points totals of clubs.
The plan to keep the nation’s most promising young players together for a long period has echoes of the dispatch of a Chinese squad for training in Hungary in the 1950s and more recently similar groups sent to Brazil and Germany.
Despite those efforts, China has qualified for the World Cup just once — in 2002. Wei, however, still sees the central planning of the state sports system as the key to future success.
“We have to adhere to the state system, which is China’s unique advantage. Why can’t we make use of it?” Wei added.
“Nobody set me the goal (of qualifying) for 2014. It was the requirement I have set for myself. Therefore I came upon this idea.”
The proposal will be voted on at a CSL annual general meeting over the weekend, a week ahead of the start of the new season.
Despite the chaos caused by the ongoing match-fixing scandal, and media reports to the contrary, a CFA spokesman told Reuters the new season would kickoff as scheduled next Saturday.
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Liu Zhen; Editing by Alastair Himmer