BCFC: Academy in China

Birmingham City reported on their official website that the Academy’s u14 team have gone to China to play in the Beijing International Schools Cup. The website confirms that the Board of Directors of the club have arranged the trip which “signifies the intent of the of the Board and the Club owners to promote and showcase the Academy programme”.

Birmingham City FC

If you’ve not already seen the article, it’s here.

The team have started their trip well, with the Blues Academy tweeting that the team won their first game 6-0 against Xi’an Tie Yi District.

As someone who has long been a proponent of building infrastructure and improving the club from within, this kind of trip in some ways makes me more excited than most signings will this summer.

During the reign of Carson, there were all kinds of announcements about potential projects BIH (as it was then) could be involved in – but nothing came to fruition.

I can still remember being told by former BIH directors Vico Hui and Lee Yiu Tung that every idea and proposition that came up was nixed by Carson in board meetings. It was all hot air.

The recent appointment of Ren Xuandong to the Birmingham City board brought in a well-educated, English speaking Chinese businessman with easily verifiable connections in football. Bearing in mind Ren’s company WinningLeague operates football academies across China as well it seemed only a matter of time before Blues would get more involved out there.

I’m not going to pretend that this means a production line of Chinese talent to come to St Andrew’s – work permit problems alone prevent that as West Bromwich Albion have proved, immediately sending expensive new signing and Chinese wunderkind Zhang Yuning out on loan to Germany following his transfer from Vitesse Arnhem.

Likewise, I’m not going to pretend that this means we’ll have an army of loyal Chinese followers from Beijing to Shanghai.

However, there are ways a partnership like this can work.

For example, I have no doubt for those 14-year-olds it’s the trip of a lifetime and a chance to experience a completely different culture. Academy life for young players can be quite coddled judging by comments from professionals in the game and I can’t help but think that a week in Beijing is going to give those kids potentially something to think about as they progress in their youth careers.

The more groups we’re able to send out there, the more young players we’re able to give a chance to see another side of life.

Likewise, for the Chinese it means exposure to coaching standards from England – and I have no doubt that there may well be reciprocal visits.

Only last month I read that the Regionalliga Sudwest in Germany is going to play host to a Chinese u20 side next season, with the Chinese team making up one of the 20 teams in that division for the 2017-18 season.

There is no doubt that there is a lot of money being invested by the Chinese in football right now. If the rumours of there being “new owners” after Paul Suen are true – and that Ren Xuandong is working for them – then I think we have to hope that Birmingham City can capitalise on that to some extent.

After all, signing good players helps us now in the short term but if we can build our academy up further to produce more stars in the mould of Demarai Gray, Nathan Redmond and Jack Butland – and more importantly keep the finances secure enough so we’re not forced to sell them for a song… well – that’s something to be truly excited about.

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