China's soccer boss, Cai Zhenhua, is targeting schoolboy soccer to turn around the nation's fortunes.
"Without a solid foundation and a considerable amount of teenage players, the struggling situation of Chinese soccer can't be turned around," said Cai, a Chinese sports deputy minister, who was switched from his role as manager of the table tennis team to the head of soccer in September.
"We must offer the children a better environment to inspire their interest and enrich their knowledge about soccer," he said. "Only with this basis can we select and cultivate talented players for the country."
Twenty months after the country's sport and education authorities joined hands to start promoting soccer in schools, ranging from primary schools to universities, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) drew up a five-year plan about the development of teenage soccer.
According to CFA chief Wei Di, Under-17, U-15 and U-13 leagues at the provincial, regional and national levels will be launched next year. All the tournaments will be arranged during the summer and winter vacations to avoid conflicts with classes.
The CFA will also work hard with the education departments to avoid age discrepancies to guarantee the students in each age group can participate in matches.
Also, more international study programs will be introduced to make sure that at least 20 domestic coaches and 100 players will be provided with the opportunity to enhance their skills.