If their past AFC Asian Cup records under foreign coaches account for anything, it seems thatChina PR, under Frenchman Alain Perrin, could be set to redeem themselves on the continental stage at the upcoming finals.
The world’s most populous nation stormed into the last four under Bora Milutinovic at Lebanon 2000 and Dutchman Arie Haan went one better by taking Team Dragon to the final on home soil four years later. The recent two editions saw the Chinese fail to progress past the group stage-coached by a home-grown manager on either occasion.
Now the baton has been passed to Perrin, whose appointment came in the wake ofChina PR’s lacklustre qualifying campaign for the AFC Asian Cup and a disastrous 5-1 friendly defeat to Thailand at home. With the continental showpiece in Australia just around the corner, the pressures are on the former Marseille and Lyon manager to rebuild the team’s lost credibility in arguably his first competitive campaign in charge.
FIFA.com sat down with the 58-year-old to share his views onChina PR’s recent progress, their goals for the Asian finals and above all, the team’s prospects for this year’s Asian preliminaries for the 2018 FIFA world Cup Russia™.
FIFA.com: Coach, how do you rate the progressChina PRhas made under you over the recent months?Alain Perrin:China PRteam were in a difficult time when I took over. So I decided the top priorities were to boost the players' morale through training sessions and playing games. I am instilling my philosophy into the players' minds and the first step is to have the team play as a solid unit. This takes time. To be honest, Chinese players are not individually outstanding so we stress the importance of teamwork. We can make up for the lack of star players through our organisation.
As the first French coachChina PRhas had, are you hoping to transform the team with a Gallic style?Not necessarily. But as a strong footballing country, France's success comes from the fine youth development schemes. I started my coaching career as a youth coach. I am glad to pass my experiences in youth development on toChina PR. While we focus on the team play, we should pay importance to individual development as we want to cultivate stars.
What types of players do you prefer?I want the players who know their responsibilities and their mission representing the country. While I choose the players who can meet the requirements by the modern game, I hope they have the guts, spirit, responsibility and merit which help them become good players.
We can make up for the lack of star players through our organisation.
Many young players have broken into the team but recently you have called back some experienced players, like Zheng Zhi.Our top tasks at the moment are Asian Cup. It is all about the country's pride. We should field the best players who are qualified to represent the country. So we choose the players who are in good form. Young players are given few playing chances in the Chinese Super League so we call up some veteran players who can provide the team with experience.
What goals have you set for this Asian Cup ?Our initial target is progressing beyond the group phase. Then we will try to go further, based on the knockout stage rivals. Every match is important.
How willChina PRprogress from a group also featuringUzbekistan,Saudi ArabiaandKorea DPR?The Asian Cup features the continent's best teams so all these teams are close rivals without clear-cut favourites. There won't be easy games and the details will make the difference. We must feel strong playing against any team, with faith in ourselves and desire for victories. Meanwhile, we should minimise chances of making mistakes and showcase our potential.
What are the biggest difficulties in coaching the team?It is pleasant to be working together with the Chinese players. They are disciplined and they listen. But when I wanted them to make changes in personalities it was not easy. I want them to be aggressive. They are polite lads but you can't be polite on the pitch. I want them to take responsibility and sharpen their appetite for wins. There is still much work to do in this regard.
But are personalities hard to change?No, you can change your personalities. This needs our effort. We can pass our messages to the players, heighten their spirit to compete against the strong opponents.
FormerChina PRcoach Bora Milutinovic transformed the team with his motto: the attitudes are everything. So what is your motto?I think we should have such faith that we can achieve our goals only if we have ambitions and work hard.
You started your coaching career as Arsene Wenger's assistant in Nancy. What did you learn from the apprenticeship?It was such luck for me to work alongside a world class manager like him. A coach like Wenger can provide you with inspiration.
Are you confident of guiding thisChina PRsquad through Asia's qualifying campaign to the next FIFA World Cup in Russia?We are aware that the time is tight. Our recent preparation and this Asian Cup provide us with a good chance to take stock of the team. I think our team are progressing and we are close to our goal of nurturing a good team. The team are full of possibilities as long as we work hard.