Shanghai SIPG is one of the greatest teams at Chinese football in the last years. Becoming a professional football club on December 2005 and owned by Shanghai International Port Group, the team is going to its sixth season in a row in Chinese football first tier. And they should be proud of the results achieved. Twice runners-up of the Chinese Super League (2015 and 2017), quaterfinalist (2016) and semfinalist (2017) in two years in the AFC Champions League and a runners-up in the Chinese FA Cup (2017).

But the team of the Brazilians Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson, and the Uzbek Odil Akhmedov doesn’t limit his own view to the moment. While fighting to break Guangzhou Evergrande’s hegemony and trying to win trophies, SIPG also works hard to stay in the top of Chinese football for a long period.

We chat with Mads Davidsen, Technical Director at Shanghai SIPG, to understand what has been done at the club to reach that goal. Former Guangzhou R&F assistant coach, Mads Davidsen also talks about Chinese football development, his job at the club and tell us the development of the SIPG WAY of play.

Vítor Pereira and Mads Davidsen at Shanghai SIPG training in Shanghai.

Leonardo Hartung: Mr. Davidsen, since 2015 you work at Shanghai SIPG as a Technical Director. Here in Brazil we have a lot of discussions about jobs in football. To start this interview, could you tell us and explain what does a Technical Director?

Mads Davidsen: Firstly, I was the 1. team assistant coach (under Sven Göran Eriksson) and head coach of our U23-group from 2014-end of 2016, so only from 2017 I changed my role to be technical director. My job is to be in charge of the football development of the club. I try to advise our president and management on football related topics across the club. So from recruitment to training, coach and player education and to the en academy structure. I helped the club develop our philosophy “THE SIPG WAY”, which will be our core for every decision in the club.

LH: Football is developing in China, and also the Chinese Super League is a developing competition looking for stability. Right now, do you think there are some Chinese players ready to head European competitions? Or do you think we still need to wait awhile to see this happening?

MD: You can find current Chinese national team players, who can play in Europe already. Not in the top clubs, but for sure in the level just below this, but it’s also a market thing as no Chinese clubs now wants to sell and loose their best local players. I though think future wise we will see a bigger move for Chinese players going abroad.

LH: When you arrived at China back in July 2012, you started working on Ebbe Sand’s Football Academy in Shanghai. In this space of 6 years which changes could you see on the development of Chinese youth football?

MD: It would take me 3-4 hours to give an in-depth answer to this question, but in headlines we now experience an improvement on the technical and physical level of the players. They have received better training on these areas and hopefully in the future we need to add the tactical area as well, which is the main gab to the top European level of players.

And of course the project of Xi Jinping and his personal involvement was later a major game changer in Chinese football and slowly more and more focus is on the youth development.

LH: Coming back to Shanghai SIPG, the club has partnerships with clubs like Hamburger SV, Royal Antwerp and most recently with Brazilian team Londrina. What does all these partnerships add to the club youth development?

MD: It is on different level, so for example Hamburg SV we use a lot in terms of sharing know-how on the Academy-side and coach education and with Londrina it was more a player-development project, where our 1999-2000 group had the chance to play some really high level games in Brazil and as well receive a technical addition to their development in a Brazilian environment.

LH: In a recent interview to Shanghai SIPG official TV, you said that the all the categories have a similar style of play and it’s your job to create a path between them. How would you define the SIPG style of play?

MD: That is my main job task – create the path and through this maximize the development og outcome for the club. My background in Denmark was very priviliged as I was in touch with players now playing on the highest level in the Bundesliga of Germany, Premier League in England and La Liga in Spain, so through this work I found out what are the demands for players to reach this level.

Furthermore the last 6 years, I’ve visited 22 clubs around Europe to study training, club philosophy, methodology, coaches, use of data, etc. To find the best tools and to get inspiration from the highest level for us and myself to learn from and use in our club. And through those experiences I have concluded that the best clubs to develop talents have a clear structure and one style of play through-out the entire club, so therefore this is a key element in THE SIPG WAY.

Our style of play is on a 24 minutes video and a 75-page PDF, so not easy to say simplified, but in general:

– We want to take charge of the game and control the game on and off the ball

– We want to prepare and control as many phases/situations as possible during a match (collective understanding)

– We want to create a structured balance in our team in all phases of the game – defensively & offensively

– We want to achieve positional superiority

– We want to have the ball as much as possible to control the game


LH: You also said that “we have to make the training look like the game.” Do you see it as an issue for all Chinese football? Is it for both training and game? And how can you develop higher intensity in Chinese football?

MD: One major challenge for Chinese coaches is the Chinese sports system, where China for many years are very strong in the Olympic Games and win medals in many sports like; ping-pong, badminton, swimming, weightlifting, diving, etc.

The issue for football in this relation is that the training for these sports are completely different. It’s more simple sports and often a single- og double-sport, so no collective thinking is necessary. Therefore Chinese youth coaches will train too long session, which makes the tempo go down and intensity dissapear. So football have to trained very differently from other sports in terms of intensity, length and repititions.

A ping-pong player can hit the same forehand 500 times during a training, which is very efficient for him, because it looks like the game, but for a football player every game situation is different and must be handled differently, so therefore we can’t just pass one pass 500 times.

LH: Can you tell us what is already been done at Shanghai SIPG training to develop this higher intensity?

MD: It’s rarely simply actually; we play with more intervals and a higher intensity, so shorter time and more explosive demands – just like a game of sprint-stop-sprint-stop, etc.

LH: To finish, we see Shanghai SIPG using many players developed in their own Youth Team and also appearing a lot in China Youth Teams. What are Shanghai SIPG targets and goals for the next years?

MD: We are pleased with the current situation in the youth, but pleased only means ready to move on. We must always seek to improve and higher the level of our players. Every day and every minute on and off the pitch. That mentality must be in our coaches and players head.

Our had more than 50% of Academy players playing in the CSL 2017-season, so now we aim for 70% as well as adding more individual and positional training for our academy players. The current generation are good, but we seek to make the next ones even better.

You can also read this interview in Portuguese.