By Sportswriters Yue Dongxing and Gong Bing
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- Football should be China's priority in sports now, Jerome Valcke, Secretary General of FIFA told Xinhua in an exclusive interview during the Club World Cup here on Friday.
"You had best basketball players in NBA. You can have good team sports, then football should be your first target now," he said.
Despite a debacle in the semi-final to Bayern Munich which cast a little shadow on Guangzhou Evergrande's African journey, the debut of a Chinese club at the world stage ignited the passion of millions of football fans.
It were long-awaited moments. The last precious memory for Chinese football dated back to 2002, when the national team qualified for the World Cup finals, but it remained the only entry so far.
Now, with the improvement of the professional club, it is the right time and right mood for Chinese football to come back to the world's stage, according to Valcke.
"If you think about the quality and value of Chinese national team, it's a long time that they haven't played at the highest level. China should come back into football," said Valcke.
He also confirmed there was "unofficial interests" from club level to bid for hosting the FIFA's year-ending tournament, but the best idea may be targeting the editions in 2017 and 2018 as the current format is technically "two times in Japan and two times outside Japan" following Morocco's host.
Though Marcello Lippi's side was outclassed 3-0 by the reigning European champions in semi-final, Valcke disagreed with the critics' "poor-performance" comment on Guangzhou and believed Chinese club proved that they deserved to be here.
"They are the champions of Asia, which is not a continent of ten countries. There are a number of teams playing in Asian champions league. It's not a poor performance."
"But you were playing against one of the best teams in the world. It maybe look like a training game for Bayern, but it's not such an easy game."
"In the first 25 minutes Guangzhou played quite well. But you are talking about Bayern. It's one of the teams at a period of time impossible to beat. They are quite unique ones."
"This is at the level of the games where they will learn how to play at the highest level. You need to play against these top teams."
The FIFA official showed his understanding of Chinese football by listing "three wishes", but suggesting China should go down to earth from the grassroots.
"I know there are three wishes when you talk about football in China. To make sure you qualify for the World Cup again, then you would organise the World Cup and maybe you win one World Cup one day."
And he advised the football governing body of China to do more for footballer rather than just focus on competitive results.
"It's time for such a major country in the world to look at footballer. Think footballer means to work on development of football at grassroots level."
If China want to achieve their seemingly untouchable wishes, Valcke's one suggestion is to build a strong U-20 team and organise the event for the players of the age for the long-term project.
"You can also consider organising Under-20 World Cup. Not now, because it was already given. Why not in 2021 or 2023?"
"And just to build a strong team of players under 20. The goal should not just be to win and stay in the tournament as long as you can. You also need to concentrate on players' performances and team build-ups."
Step by step, the secretary general believed China would have chance to host the World Cup in future.
"This time if you think about to organise the U-20 event and build team, then you can in mind organise a World Cup one day in 2030 or 2034," he said, adding that because 2022 is in Qatar, west Asia. In 2026 there will be potential bids from CONCACAF -- North and central American, Caribbean countries or Africans and so on.
"But they (Asian countries) can be back on the bid in '30 or '34, which could be the right time for China," he added.
Though the FIFA official's words were encouraging, Chinese football nowadays is still suffering the lack in young players, grounds, high-level coaches and football education system. To enter or organise a World Cup is a goal out of reach without solving these problems.
However, the first time Chinese club joining in Club World Cup could also never be imagined by fans several years ago. It proved that the "wish" is by no means a castle in the air.