“Should Chinese football start from scratch?” asked state media in the wake of the national team’s latest World Cup qualifying defeat.
China lost 2-0 to Uzbekistan in Tashkent, a defeat that realistically ends their hopes of qualifying for Russia 2018, even with six fixtures remaining.
China have taken only one point from four matches, a home draw with Iran.
Coach Gao Hongbo announced his resignation at the post-match press conference. “I will leave the national team because of poor health,” he said, having taken the reins for a second time in February.
Gao’s tactics and team selection were criticised, but the People’s Daily pointed out: “Could even Ferguson, Mourinho or Guardiola get results with this group of players?”
The state newspaper wondered if the boom in the big-money Chinese Super League has masked deep-seated failings in the national game.
President Xi Jinping has demanded the country become a football superpower, and the CSL has spent huge sums in attracting foreign stars to China.
“Now that qualification is only a theoretical possiblity should Chinese football go back to square one ?” asked the People’s Daily.
“Perhaps this is too extreme, but think about whether the false Chinese football boom has covered up too many issues.”
They pointed out that despite the billions spent on foreign players and Guangzhou Evergrande winning the Asian Champions League, Chinese football was still “marking time or going backwards”
England were held up as an example of a country with an impressive football league but poor national team.
And it was pointed out that though some in China may “laugh” at Japan and South Korea for their domestic leagues’ lack of big names, “half of their players play abroad while China only has 19-year-old Zhang Yuning struggling in the Netherlands”.
Xinhua did not bid a fond farewell to Gao, 50, a popular star when he was a player. “Gao failed to mould an effective formation nor playing style for the Chinese team and all his tries ended in vain. Although there are still six matches remaining, the performances of the Chinese team have not given the fans any hope,” they wrote.
Sohu Sports made similar complaints about the big-money CSL as they bemoaned a “slaughter of [national] face” and said “Chinese football is full of holes”. They pointed to a “match-fixing” scandal this week in an under-11 game and asked how the game could grow from such bad roots.
Sina Sports said the vast sums of money in Chinese football would hold back homegrown players from testing themselves abroad, saying “you may have forgotten teenage dreams … and would rather stay in the country to not miss out on the gold rush.”
China’s next game is in little over a month, against Qatar in Kunming, with many commentators suggesting the team should now use the remaining games to start building for the future.
Guus Hiddink, the Dutch former coach of South Korea and Russia who was most recently in charge of Chelsea, has already been linked with the vacant coaching role.