Sven-Goran Eriksson backs China to win World Cup within 20 years

By Richard Conway and David LockwoodBBC Sport in Shanghai
Football has gone crazy in China - Sven-Goran Eriksson

China could win the World Cup within the next 20 years, according to former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Eriksson, the head coach of leading Chinese Super League team Shanghai SIPG, believes everything is now in place for China to succeed.

"This season it's gone crazy, totally crazy," said the Swede, 68.

"The president of the country is pushing for football. And if the government push for something in China things will happen."

While China excel at the Olympics and Paralympics, its men's team have only qualified for one football World Cup, in 2002.

But Eriksson believes that record will change and says winning the tournament is a realistic target.

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Eriksson was appointed by Shanghai SIPG in November 2014

The former Manchester City and Leicester City manager, who led England from 2001 to 2006, added: "Why not? Not the next World Cup. It will take 15, 20 years at least."

China's government set out plans in April to become a "world football superpower" by 2050, with a drive to get 50 million children and adults playing the game by 2020.

The head of China's Super League, Ma Chengquan, says his country sees hosting the World Cup as a catalyst that would improve the popularity of the game and the fortunes of the national side.

"After Qatar in 2022, for China our earliest target will be in 2030," he told BBC Sport in a rare interview.

"A country's capability to host such a big tournament depends on whether a country has developed to a certain level, it has the financial ability and can also provide facilities such as proper stadiums.

Ramires was a Premier League winner with Chelsea in 2015

"Stadiums are not a problem for China - it has already hosted the 2008 Olympics and it's going to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

"It's more important right now for China to improve the level of our national team so it can perform better at the World Cup and so we can prepare for it."

Other targets established by the Chinese government include:

  • having at least 20,000 football training centres
  • 70,000 pitches in place by 2020
  • renovating or building 6,000 playing facilities
  • making football coaching a part of the school curriculum and exposing 100 million children under the age of six to the game

China's government also wants to diversify the Chinese economy by building a vast £550bn sports industry, with football set to play a leading role.

"The sports industry plays an important role in the economic development of a country, but in China the CSL was quite weak. So we really want to improve it and make it better," said Ma.

"We want CSL to be a leading example of the sports industry and to help the development of economic growth in China."

The power behind Chinese football
Big business is pouring money into Chinese Super League clubs, in part to win political favour from a government that is intent on making China a world football power.This boom in interest shows no signs of going bust soon. The reasons for that lie in the country's economic future. China posted its weakest economic growth figures in a generation in 2015. China's strategy is now to create an economy led by consumption and services, rather than one driven by exports and investment. Football fits the bill as part of that transition. However, China cannot simply buy a football culture. So the political will to invest for the long term - and devote money and attention to the grassroots of the sport - is essential. China's hopes of rising to the very top depend upon it.

The growth in the CSL has seen some of the biggest names in world football sign for Chinese clubs in recent years.

In January, Brazil international Ramires joined Jiangsu Suning from Chelsea for £25m, while Argentina's Ezequiel Lavezzi left Paris St-Germain for Hebei China Fortune for a reported fee of £23.5m

China's transfer record was broken three times in 10 days during the most recent window.

It culminated in Liverpool being beaten to the signature of Alex Teixeira when the 26-year-old forward moved from Shakhtar Dontesk to Jiangsu Suning for a fee of £38.4m.

Speaking to BBC Sport, one of China's leading agents has warned fans of European clubs to expect more big names to head east.

"It's going crazy right now. We have a saying that the only two players who are not coming to China right now are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi," said Romain Woo, the founder of Van Hao sports agency.

Former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho helped Guangzhou Evergrande win the Chinese Super League and the Asian Super League in 2015

"The other names? It's all highly possible. I know most of the big agents in Europe and they are all trying to push their clients to China right now if they're not having a good time in Europe."

Woo manages more than 50 of China's leading players and says Chinese clubs have also rejected transfer approaches from leading European clubs.

"Three of my players got chances to go to FC Copenhagen, to Real Madrid and Chelsea," he said.

"The problem is that they are way too important to their clubs here and they don't care about how big the transfer fee is."

More on football in China
The rise of the Chinese Super League
How China is attracting the world's best

That points to the collective will within China to set aside personal agendas and play a role in the government edict to improve the national team's fortunes.

"Maybe when their contract has expired or at another stage of Chinese football they can go," Woo said.

"But now it's a different stage of Chinese football and we want to keep all our best players in the league."

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