Former Chinese national team coach Arie Haan said he believes the Chinese Super League needs a local star - like basketball had in Yao Ming - to raise the sport's profile domestically and cultivate more interest from fans. [Provided to China Daily]
Most of the nation's top-flight teams are aiming to bolster their rosters with international stars and Shanghai Shenhua has led the way by bringing in French striker Nicolas Anelka. The ambitious team is also trying to lure his former Chelsea teammate, Didier Drogba.
However, former Chinese national team coach Arie Haan does not believe bringing in high-priced imports is the way to go about things here.
"When I had an interview with a Dutch paper, the paper suggested China needed a player like (Brazilian star) Ronaldo, but I said the Chinese players should be like this," said the 63-year-old Dutch. "In basketball there was Yao Ming, and in soccer you also need a player like that, then people will become more interested."
"China will get more publicity when its players rise to the star level. It will attract more international sponsors and make soccer more interesting, but one foreign player can do nothing," Haan said.
"When your team is good and strong enough, then you can think about 'when we have this player, we will become much better', but if you don't have a good, stable team, one famous name cannot make a difference," he said.
Haan said Chinese clubs, which have begun pouring lots of money into the transfer market, need to build from the bottom.
"What China is doing now is what America did in the '70s; they built from the top," Haan said. "A lot of famous players came to America in '70s, Franz Beckenbauer, Pele, but what did they help?
"The Americans started to improve later when they opened their own schools, and clubs started to play good soccer, then they developed their own stars, and today they have a very good national team," he said. "You can't build a house from the top, you build the base and then go to the top."
"When you look around the world, like teams in Germany, Dortmund is a very good example and Stuttgart also, suddenly they don't have any more money, so they have had to focus on development ... the players are good and the teams have come up again.
"It's not always money that makes the difference. You have to realize you can buy a championship like Guangzhou (Evergrande) did. They had the best foreign players, the best domestic players - they must be the champion. Money can do a lot, but you can't buy one player, you have to buy a team."
Insufficient games, a shortage of players and also clubs are regarded by the Dutchman as some of the major obstacles confronting Chinese soccer.
"Soccer is very popular in China, but it's very strange that not many people are members of the Chinese federation," Haan said. "What we see in China is that the youth don't have competitions, they play some tournaments, but not weekly. When I was six or seven, I was already playing weekly games.
"A lot of teams are starting youth schools now, because you have to start with youth competitions. Also, cities like Tianjin and Beijing should have much more teams; there are so many people living there. There are only 16 million people in Holland, but every little city or town has one or two organized clubs.
"I think for China there is still a long way to go, and the problem is the people who are responsible must be fully behind (the game's development). Maybe they will never see the results of their work, which will come much later, but they must try."
Haan also disagrees with the view that foreign players can virtually win games off their own boots in the Chinese leagues.
"I played (coached) in Teda most of the time with only two foreigners. I would have liked to have had a completely Chinese team, because the players understand each other much better. But you also need a little bit of the western mentality," Haan said. "Chinese players don't say too much on the pitch, but in soccer you have to talk, to say what is not good. And foreign players are not afraid to take the lead and say something - that's what Chinese players need to learn."