Xu at it again, launches another football club

AFP
The former player and manager of the Chinese national team and also the owner of a Spanish league side, the charismatic Xu Genbao is taking on his toughest assignment.
AFP

He is known as the “Godfather of Shanghai football.” The former player and manager of the Chinese national team and also the owner of a Spanish league side, the charismatic Xu Genbao is taking on his toughest assignment yet: Forming a club from scratch to help China become a competitive force in world football.

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

Wu, dubbed “China’s Maradona,” and many others now playing in the Chinese Super League, were discovered by Xu.

“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 of the club.

But Xu looks nowhere near as old as his years — he turns 74 in January — and now is not the time to quit the football scene in China. The Chinese government is making huge investments to ramp up the quality of Chinese football.

CSL clubs have invested vast amounts of cash in foreign stars such as Shanghai SIPG’s 60-million-euro (US$7,120m) Brazilian, Oscar, and the disappointing Carlos Tevez at Shanghai Shenhua, both reportedly on some of the highest wages in world football.

China is also forging partnerships with clubs and football associations across the globe to help lift the level of Chinese 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 football stars. 

“It is to combine our forces for Chinese football and make efforts for Chinese football.

“I hope that Shanghai can produce more talents to contribute to the nation and get good results for the national team.”

Imaginechina

Xu Genbao, known as “Shanghai’s godfather of football,” keeps an eye on his players in this file picture. The charismatic Xu, now 73, is taking on his toughest assignment yet: Forming a club from scratch to make China a great footballing power.

Known for having a temper, Xu has reigned over football 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, a strip of land 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 of the talents who graduated from his academy, Xu, in 2005, founded a club called Shanghai East Asia and made himself president — and for a while coach.

In 2013, Shanghai International Port Group became the main sponsor and the club was rebranded Shanghai SIPG, which is now managed by former Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas.

But Xu’s influence remains strong at SIPG and in Chinese football in general and even beyond: Last year, he bought the Spanish outfit Lorca FC for a reported 1.3 million euros.

Unfashionable Lorca, in the Spanish southeastern region of Murcia, was promoted to the Segunda Division, a rung below the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in La Liga.

Reports in Spain and China recently 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 development of players 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. If they go and play in the Spanish team, the team will be relegated so I have to wait.”

Imaginechina

A banner strung across the grandstand reads: “The story continues,” along with the image of Xu Genbao, during a 2016 CSL match between Shanghai SIPG and Yanbian Fude. Xu’s influence remains strong at SIPG.

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 President Xi Jinping’s dream of making China a great footballing 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 fourth and third because older players have all moved there so getting promoted is much harder than before.

“My idea is to cultivate football stars. Only by making football stars will there be hope for Chinese football. I hope there will be someone better than Wu Lei in the young ones so that Chinese football has hope at a World Cup.”


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