Back of the Net: Mission Improbable

By Matt Horn, January 20, 2016

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Much as I enjoy writing this monthly football column for That’s PRD, I am hoping this might be the last one ever. That is because I am hopeful of landing a new job that was recently advertised by China’s Football Association. 

I am willing to answer their call for a male football coach to “strengthen the Chinese football team and improve its competitiveness ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.” The fact 2018 in Russia is not mentioned is perhaps an acceptance that the current campaign looks doomed, and explains why French coach Alain Perrin has been fired, leaving the door open for me to apply to be his replacement.

With any application, it is essential to see if you fulfill all the requirements, and the first box I can tick is I am male.

At the top of the list of requirements is good health. Apart from a bit of knee surgery and a bad reaction to a recent flu jab, I am good to go. Having worked in China for more than a decade, I am also well aware of the need to have a full medical before getting your working visa. I already have one so I can even save them money on the check-up and visa application.

Number two is a bit more problematic, as it requires a professional coaching diploma. I do not have the necessary piece of paper but have coached Chinese students for my faculty at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, as well as shouting from the sidelines as “assistant manager” of the Paddy Field in the Guangzhou International Football League. We were twice crowned the champions, and the fact I played for almost a decade without scoring is irrelevant in terms of coaching.

Third on the list of requirements is “rich teaching experience,” which I am good for after nearly 13 years of passing on my experience in journalism to students at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies. It is not a big leap to swap teaching how to look for stories to how to look for a pass, how to communicate with contacts to communicating with team mates.

Which brings me smoothly to the need for good “interpersonal and communication skills.” That is no different from being a journalist, and I will certainly be well capable of handling the press conferences before and after games. I also pledge to WeChat plenty of information to the millions of football fans in China who are desperate for success.

Finally, all candidates are required to know about world football, Asian football and understand the basic situation of Chinese football. Well, taking the last part first, I am under no illusion about the size of the task for a country that has only qualified for the World Cup once – in 2002 when the continent’s two best sides, Japan and South Korea, had automatically qualified as hosts.

As for world football, every Saturday morning I listen to the world football phone-in on Radio Five Live with the excellent Dotun Adebayo and experts from every part of the globe. 

So that’s it, I am good to go. Applications closed at the end of last month, so I am now anxiously awaiting news about where and when I will be interviewed.

In all seriousness, there is no doubt that this is a crucial appointment for the Chinese FA. The national side has been drifting for far too long and has struggled under an ever-growing list of foreign managers, Perrin being the latest. Dutchman Arie Haan, Spain’s José Antonio Camacho and England’s Bobby Houghton have all had a go, and with no viable domestic candidate it looks likely that they will look abroad again.

If I am not to get the job, and clearly despite my outstanding credentials that may be a possibility, I am going to throw one name into the hat: Marcello Lippi. The man is a World Cup-winning manager; he took Guangzhou Evergrande to the Asian Champions League crown and has definitely raised the performance levels of the Chinese players that he coached.

Even I have to accept that might be a more impressive CV than mine, so maybe I should not be expecting my phone to ring…

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