Will The Chinese Football League become a true football (soccer) powerhouse in 2017 and beyond?
England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga, these are the names of Europe’s and arguably some of the world’s most elite footballing nations and toughest leagues, where players from all nations come and ply their trade against the best in the business. But could the traditional footballing powerhouses of the world have a new foe to deal with in Chinese football and the Chinese Super League?
1-0 Xi’s Love for football
President Xi’s expressed wishes to see China qualify, host and eventually win the prestigious World Cup. The country has set its sights on transforming into a world-leading football power by 2050 through youth promotion and league development. As the follow-up to an ambitious football reform plan inspired by President Xi Jinping last March, a long-term development plane was unveiled earlier this year tasked with turning Chinese football into a dominant power in Asia by 2030 and a world elite competitor two decades later. President Xi said he wants China to win the World Cup in the next 15 years. Currently in the FIFA rankings China are 82nd, between the tiny islands of St Kitts. and Nevis and the Faroe Islands. They have only appeared at a World Cup finals once before in 2002, going out at the group stage without scoring a single goal. President Xi was given a guided tour of Manchester City’s new academy last year shortly before China Media Capital announced a state-backed £265m investment in the club’s owner, Sheikh Mansour’s, company. The president’s aims are as much economic as cultural, China’s government hopes to create a sports industry worth $650billion, meaning the country will be less dependent on manufacturing and other sectors.
2-0 Marquee Signings
Since President Xi’s outline was unveiled, Chinese clubs backed with cash by the government have gone on an extravagant transfer signing bonanza. The latest name to be linked with a move to the CSL is Chelsea playmaker Oscar for a deal estimated to be worth around … million, and the player is set to become the world’s best paid football player on a wage of about $491,000 a week. But Oscar is just the latest in a string of expensive signings to try and raise the profile of football in China. Last year another Brazilian striker with the amazingly marketable name of Hulk moved to Shanghai SIPG from Russian side Zenit St Petersburg for $61 million, there is a repeating theme for Brazilians making hefty moves to China as we also saw with Alex Teixeira who moved to Chinese side Jiangsu Suning FC for $56 million.
Whereas some of these players didn’t play in the top leagues, Oscar comes from arguably the best league, and another coup was Guangzhou Evergrande bringing Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez to the club for a reported $45.8 million, considering Atletico’s recent success in their domestic league and the gold standard of the footballing world, the UEFA Champions League. The huge offers being made to European and South American stars are possible because Chinese Super League teams have been bankrolled by massive corporate investment.
3-0 Top Managers from around the world joining top players
With top players now gracing the Chinese Super League, equally managers from all walks of life and with impeccable credentials are now barking out the orders. World Cup winning boss Luiz Felipe Scolari has been in charge of Guangzhou Evergrande since 2015 and are currently the champions. Manuel Pellegrini, formerly in ch arge of Premier League titans Manchester City, is the manager of the club Hebei China Fortune. Former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson is in charge at second tier club Shenzhen, having previously worked for Shanghai SIPG, where former Chelsea, Porto, Zenit St. Petersburg and Tottenham Coach Andre Villas-Boas is now in the dugout. And Gus Poyet, once in charge of Sunderland in England and Real Betis in Spain, has recently joined Shanghai Shenhua where legendary players such as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka once plied they’re trade. In October, the Chinese FA (CFA) unveiled former Italy manager Marcello Lippi as coach of the men’s team, on a contract reportedly worth €20 million a year until 2019.
4-0 Raising China’s profile abroad
The world sat up and took notice at the start of this year after the Chinese transfer record was broken three times in the space of 10 days. The Chinese investment in clubs in more prominent footballing nations really got started. Dalian Wanda Group kicked off with $55 million for a 20 per cent stake in Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in 2015, and Espanyol and Granada are owned by Chinese investors. The slide of sterling post Brexit has made English clubs cheap for Chinese clubs. Tony Xia took over Aston Villa in May, Lai Guochuan’s investment group Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development bought West Bromwich Albion for between $200 million and $260 million, while Fosun Group bought Wolverhampton Wanderers for $66 million in July and China Media Capital spent $350 million to pick up a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City. All of this done to increase Chinese presence in the game, whilst also cooperating to achieve a brighter footballing future for the Chinese nation and its long suffering fans.
5-0 Different to America’s haven for ageing players?
Ageing and established stars seeking an easy payday at the end of their careers is nothing new, of course. America was a lucrative stop-off for the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, Best and Cruyff in the old NASL long before Major League Soccer came along to offer the likes of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard a last hurrah.
The difference now, however, is that players in their prime are moving to China, lured by the astronomical figures on offer, rather than pursuing their football aspirations at a significantly higher level in Europe or South America. The latest player to tilt his head east, Oscar, is 25 and in the prime of his footballing life. Teixeira was 26 when he turned his back on the chance to join Liverpool at the start of this year. And Chinese football hasn’t finished yet。
A strong domestic league would help, in part, to realise these targets, so China has encouraged big businesses to essentially bankroll the domestic clubs. And in November, it was reported that Chinese video streaming service PPTV was set to pay $700m for Premier League rights – the English top flight’s biggest overseas broadcast sale. If the reported value is confirmed, it would be worth 10 times more than the league’s existing China TV deal. But from all this we can gather that Chinese football has arrived and it means business.