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Fantasy football

China looks for its own answer to Captain Tsubasa

Football Soccer - Barcelona v Espanyol - Spanish Liga BBVA

One of Tsubasa’s fans: Messi

Japan’s most successful football star is Tsubasa Oozora. First he won everything at junior level. Then thanks to his mantra of always striving to be the best, he went on to lead Japan to victory at the Olympics and later to the biggest triumph of them all at the World Cup.

“But Japan’s never won the World Cup,” you may be thinking. And, in fact, this Japanese soccer skipper isn’t real – he’s part of the popular Japanese manga comic Captain Tsubasa, created by Yoichi Takahashi in 1981 (before professional football was introduced in Japan).

The franchise has been producing comic books, cartoons and video games for years, and the series is said to have inspired several generations of Japanese footballers (even Argentina’s five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi is a fan).

Perhaps that’s why Chinese planners want a fictional football legend of their own. A press conference in Hebei’s Qinhuangdao city unveiled a Chinese movie equivalent to Captain Tsubasa this month, with creator Takahashi as the scriptwriter.

Tentatively titled Football Captain and scheduled for release in 2018, the 3D film will tell the story of a wonder kid and how his natural talent and never-say-die spirit helps win the national championship for his village school (it may sound quite familiar to Tsubasa’s fans).

“The film is expected to inspire Chinese teenagers to love football, as well as to cultivate their sports spirit of hard work,” said Zhao Jun, general manager of Ti’ao Power, a major investor in Football Captain (the same firm defeated the state broadcaster in the battle for the rights to air the Chinese Football League, see WiC302).

Gao Hongpo, head coach of China’s national team, also attended the press conference.

According to Xinhua, Takahashi has been making field trips to rural areas in preparation for writing the script. But netizens seem underwhelmed by news of the film, however. “Hiring the Japanese to script China’s football dream. Indeed, you have been dreaming,” one critic wrote on weibo. “It is difficult to create a Chinese Tsubasa. Why not make a movie based on the story of Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao?” another suggested, referring to the defending champions of the Chinese Super League.

Investors, local governments and professional football clubs have been trying to unearth real-life Tsubasas in China (see WiC196) and the ministry of education has set a target of 20,000 schools specialising in football by next year.

According to Xinhua, “football fever” has been sweeping through the country’s schools. But the biggest problem is a lack of qualified coaches for youth teams. “Many schools simply hire the better players from the amateur football teams nearby,” the news agency reported, adding that this approach was unlikely to create a new generation of top players, let alone a world-beating Chinese Tsubasa.


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