Arie Haan slams China's 'prima donna' players

BEIJING - Former China national coach Arie Haan, currently enjoying domestic success with Tianjin Teda, has put the boot into the country's culture of diving and indiscipline.

The Dutchman produced impressive results while coach of China from 2002-04 but believes players in the country need to grow up and cut out the play-acting.

"Players are all showmen in China," Haan told the China Daily. "The players cheat all of the time. They get one little push and they fall down. The referee blows the whistle and then they stand up.

"In China I have seen people shouting at policemen, which is not done in Europe. I have seen the same thing in football. When the referee does something the players turn around and shout and abuse him.

"The whole environment needs to change. The players have to change. They should accept a lot of things and not bicker with the referee. Play your game, focus on the game, that's very important and it makes it easier for the referee."

China's players were feted as national heroes after the country qualified for the 2002 World Cup, although they failed to win a match or even score a goal at the finals.

Players such as Sun Jihai and Li Tie moved to English Premier League clubs Manchester City and Everton respectively, helping put Chinese football on the map.

However, that momentum was brought to a halt by several embarrassing match-fixing scandals and the subsequent generation of players have struggled to make an impact overseas.

"The players going to Europe have to change a little bit of their character," said Haan, who led Tianjin to the runners-up spot in last season's Chinese Super League.

"They have to believe they are really good, and still that's not enough - they have to work, and they don't work enough.

"Chinese players are easily satisfied, but you can never be satisfied in football," added the 62-year-old, still known for an outrageous 40-metre rocket against Italy at the 1978 World Cup.

Midfielder Hao Junmin's failure to establish himself at Germany's Schalke 04 underlines Haan's point and the Dutchman bemoaned the lack of young talent coming through the ranks.

China only has around 7,000 players under the age of 18 registered with the Chinese Football Association, according to the Chinese sports administrators. Japan, by comparison, has 500,000.

Haan's China were controversially beaten 3-1 by Japan in the 2004 Asian Cup final in Beijing, where TV replays suggested two of Japan's goals should not have stood.

Since then China have slipped off the radar in Asia.

"Everybody is doubting footballnin China," Haan said. "You don't have stars and you really need people to inspire the kids like basketball star Yao Ming.

"You don't have a player like him in football, and that's what you need to get more and more people interested in football."