China's teenage talents to embark on 'Bundesliga Dream'

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) and Bundesliga International have teamed up to give some of China's brightest young prospects the chance to take their game

to the next level in Germany.

In the latest installment of the Bundesliga Dream project — an initiative designed to support local soccer associations in youth development — a group of talented Chinese players from the Under-16 national team will train at the youth academies of several Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 clubs, as well as playing against youth teams from around Germany between February and March next year.

In recent months, the Bundesliga has hosted the national youth teams of Thailand and Indonesia.

CFA president Song Kai explained that the decision to pick the Under-16s for the project was heavily influenced by FIFA's decision to change its Under-17 World Cup from a biennial tournament to an annual event.

"We chose the Under-16s for the Bundesliga Dream project primarily because the FIFA Under-17 World Cup will be held every year starting from 2025. The CFA has now started preparing for the Asian zone qualifiers, which will start in October next year," said Song.

"Going to Germany to train and interact with young athletes of the same age group will not only help the development of the players involved, but also contribute to the level of China's performances in the Asian zone qualifiers, which is our main objective," Song added.

The German league is currently finalizing the clubs that the Chinese Under-16 players will be assigned to, according to Peer Naubert, chief marketing officer of Bundesliga International.

The players will follow tailored training plans, focusing on key in-match scenarios, such as transitioning from defense to attack.

"A comprehensive curriculum will be developed across technical, tactical, and physical aspects of football. Each club will offer a week of training matches," said Naubert.

"The main aim is to expose the players to the standards and demands of a world-class soccer powerhouse.

"Through training and matches, this should provide them with invaluable experience and insights, ultimately helping them to elevate their game to the next level," he added.

The Bundesliga is considered the home of Asian players in Europe, with more players from Asia featuring in Germany's top flight in the last 20 years than the other top four European leagues combined. Acclaimed South Korean striker Son Heung-min, who played for Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen before moving to his current club Tottenham, is perhaps the German league's biggest Asian success story.

Several Chinese players, including Shao Jiayi and Yang Chen, have also enjoyed fruitful spells in the Bundesliga.

In 2019, Bundesliga International established a permanent office in Beijing. Furthermore, five Bundesliga clubs also have offices in China, more than any other European league.

"For almost 30 years, the Bundesliga has been a part of Chinese football culture. It was one of the first European leagues to be broadcast in China, and over the years it has welcomed some of China's greatest players," said Naubert, who added that the launch of Bundesliga Dream China will create a long-term pathway that could lead to more Chinese players succeeding in Germany.

With the Chinese men's national team struggling on the international stage in recent years, Song said that the CFA is determined to reinvigorate the domestic game from the ground up, and will focus on nurturing young talents in all age groups.

"I have always emphasized that the development of Chinese football requires a combination of internal work and utilizing external forces," said Song. "The hope of Chinese football lies in the young players, so we must focus on the youth and bolster international exchanges."

Song added that as well as giving young players the opportunity to train in soccer powerhouses such as Germany, the CFA will also facilitate international youth coaches to work in China.

In addition, the CFA plans to send Chinese coaches abroad to learn advanced technical and tactical skills.

"Achieving success is a gradual journey, requiring perseverance and dedication from the professionals in the youth football sector," Song said. "Their patient and resolute efforts are pivotal in contributing to the development of football in China, ensuring a stable and substantial growth trajectory for the sport."