Players selected for military-style training as CFA enlists army's help
The Chinese Football Association has taken drastic action in its bid to revive the national team's fortunes－to the point of enlisting the help of the military's special forces.
In a surprise move, a total of 55 under-25s were last week plucked from the Chinese Super League and second-tier League One as selectees for a military-style training camp, which started on Monday and ends on Dec 28.
Chinese media reported the CFA is considering forming two teams from the camp to compete in next season's CSL and League One.
On Monday it was revealed the group will train with a special forces unit in Tai'an, Shandong province, to improve discipline and body strength, following three days of physical and psychological tests at Beijing Sport University this week.
The players are required to "attach great importance" to the training, with any breach of discipline possibly resulting in suspension from the country's professional leagues.
Former national team head coach Shen Xiangfu is leading the training, while familiar faces among the players include Beijing Guo'an winger Wei Shihao and Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder Liao Lisheng, both of whom have been capped at senior level.
Shandong Luneng is the biggest contributor to the squad with six players; Guangzhou Evergrande is next with five.
The sudden nature of the process has not gone down well with clubs, given that they will be without their young talent for the final six league matches. Both Guo'an and Luneng will be minus their youngsters for the two-legged CFA Cup final.
"The reason why Chinese soccer has not improved is because of its management. The same mistakes have been repeated over and over and over again," said Guo'an chairman Zhou Jinhui.
"If we repeat the same mistakes, the future is inevitable.
"The only way to change that is to change the management methods and to respect the natural law of soccer development.
"On the one hand, we have to build a solid foundation from the soccer pyramid. On the other, we have to continue to develop the leagues at the top of pyramid to make them more professional and performance-oriented."
Zhou's frustration is likely to increase if a report in the Beijing Evening News proves correct.
The newspaper on Monday claimed the CFA is planning to divide the training group into two teams to compete in the CSL and China First Division League next season.
A similar idea was implemented in 1988, when legendary coach Xu Genbao helmed a group of young national team reserves, leading them to the 1989 top-flight title but failing to qualify for the 1992 Olympic Games.
Xu refused to comment on the new training camp but in 2010 said of his 1989 champions: "The national team that I led had great results in the professional league that time, but now everything is more market-oriented.
"We have to consider the clubs' interests. If a player leaves his club for the national team, that could result in the club's relegation.
"The sponsors could then stop their investment, which could threaten the development of clubs."
In the shorter term, the training camp is seen as preparation for the expected departure of national team coach Marcello Lippi, with the Italian recently revealing that he is unlikely to renew his contract when it expires after the Asian Cup in January.
China has only qualified for one World Cup, in 2002.
A military-style training effort in 2007 failed to fire the country to the 2010 finals in South Africa.