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Soccer: CFA official explains challenge of keeping up with growth

By Michael Church

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Chinese Football Association (CFA) vice president Zhang Jian says the country's football authorities are fighting to keep pace with the rapid growth of the club game in China.

The Chinese Super League has undergone massive growth over the last three years, with transfer fees and wages sky-rocketing as the battle for domestic and regional supremacy has intensified among wealthy owners.

But while the local governing body has sought to keep the rampant spending under control, FIFA Council member Zhang believes his organisation has found it a challenge to stay ahead following major reforms within the CFA last year.

"We're in the first stage of our professional football development and more and more money is coming into the market and that makes the league very competitive and a lot of people are watching the matches," Zhang told Reuters.

"The Chinese professional league has only 20 years' history so, compared with Europe, where they have played for more than a hundred years, we're a very young league.

"But we're developing very fast and the central government is now very focused on football. The football league is very hot, but our regulations and our administration must fit the league.

"We are facing some challenges. The first challenge is because of the fast improvement the clubs are making, they are developing very fast but the situation is that the CFA has only just reformed and has a new policy direction.

"In the old system, when the CFA published some policies everyone would follow but now because the league is growing we are trying to make a new system... now the CFA and clubs are trying to make sure everything fits for the new model."

Spending by Chinese clubs has been rampant with the Asian transfer fee record broken three times over an 18-month period before new measures implemented on the eve of the summer transfer window appeared to temporarily cool the market.

The CFA has also sought to reduce the number of foreigners clubs are allowed to field in an attempt to safeguard at least one place in starting line-ups for local players under the age of 23.

The moves are being made in an attempt to kick-start development that will ultimately improve the fortunes of a national team which continues to struggle to make an impact.

"At this moment, the level of Chinese football is caused by the mistakes we made in the last 10 or 20 years," Zhang added. "So no one knows how long it will take to fix, maybe it will be 20 years later.

"In England or Germany, when their teams underperform their FAs need 20 years to put a development plan in place and it's the same for China. We can't say we will do something and then the team will reach a high level in three or five years.

"We must plan to reach the top level in Asia by 2030, so we still have more than 10 years to do that and we need patience. Without patience we can't be successful."

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by John O'Brien)

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