By Ed Wade.
The Chinese Super league is now two months into fruition following the winter break. Optimism around the country is at an all-time high following the £200 million net spend on top international players. China ended up spending more than all of the top European leagues and established themselves as being ready to compete financially for the game’s very top players.
Leading the charge for footballing glory is President Xi Jinping. As an enormous fan of the sport, he has laid out a ten-year grand plan in order to make China the biggest sporting nation in the world.
The plans look over-ambitious perhaps, but when China set out to do something, it normally happens.
What does the president want?
President Xi plans to create a Chinese sporting economy worth $850bn by 2025. This valuation is quite astonishing considering that the entire global sports economy is currently valued at around $400bn by Optimistic.
Football is a fantastic opportunity to tap into the consumer lifestyle that absorbs China. With some of the wealthiest people in the world, it is a huge area for further investment and growth.
Xi also wants greater participation in the sport and plans to build 20,000 all-purpose football schools by 2017, with a plan of producing 100,00 players. He then wants this to increase to 50,000 schools by 2025.
With the country concerned by the growing rise of obesity, increasing participation in sport alone is becoming more important. Taking this into consideration, development at grass roots level is almost a necessity. This then becomes a ploy to not only stop health problems, but also develop better footballers in the long run.
Footballing schools would be a massive culture change, as football is not a sport currently encouraged by parents in China. It is certainly not seen as a job and parents want their children to pursue other careers. The development of Manchester City’s training complex is the sort of facility that president Xi wants across the country.
As well as this, there are also plans for China to host and win a FIFA World Cup. Very outgoing for a nation currently ranked 96th in the world, although the prestige of football is certainly growing in the country, as more high profile managers are beginning to make their trade in the East.
Brazilian World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ex England manager Sven Goran Eriksson and Alberto Zaccheroni who won a Scudetto with AC Milan, are all currently managing top teams in China.
Eriksson, who is currently leading Shanghai Shenhua towards an AFC Champions league, holds a similar view with Xi.
Eriksson recently said ‘Ten years ahead, 15 years ahead, I am quite sure the China national team will compete to win the World Cup.’ He also stated that ‘everyone should be worried’ about the emergence of China as a football powerhouse.
What about the current players?
Despite the grand plan and obvious ambition of China, some players believe it will only remain a place for semi-retired footballers and will never have the same pull or stature as the leading European leagues.
Former Chelsea and Newcastle striker Demba Ba was confident in the progress that the Chinese Super League was making. The Senegalese forward who now plays for Shanghai Shenhua said that people want to play in China and not just for the ‘millions and millions.’ He did, however, admit that it would take ‘years and years’ before the CSL is at the same level as the Premier League.
Didier Drogba, who played in both the MLS and the CSL, sbelieves that more players would choose to go America over China. The MLS also has a reputation for recruiting players who are past their best. The Ivorian believes that America is ahead in terms of Development and quality.
‘No I don’t think China is ahead of the MLS’ said Drogba before moving to Shanghai Shenhua.
Despite some of the incredible signings made by the CSL, Maurice Ross a former Rangers player, believes that it is only short term gain. He believes that a lack of structure and knowledge of the game, means that it is being built on a false premise of money as appose to desire and hunger for the sport.
‘So many deals are short-term because of the environment,’ said Ross ‘You have to really adapt to their lifestyle. ‘It’s not a good place to play football.’
Tim Cahill’s bizarre transfer episode further proved this further as his contract with Shenhua was terminated, before he signed with Hangzhou Greentown. He claimed that China was ‘crazy like a revolving door.’
What do the fans think?
For fans in Europe it is hard to see them changing their mind on the CSL. Europe is definitely the place to go in order to see top quality football. The television rights for the Premier League alone, show the pull of the competition and just how popular it is worldwide.
European competitions also have massive prestige and a global recognition. The clubs are steeped with history and are continuing to grow on a competitive and financial front. Players who move to the CSL are seen by many as ‘mercenaries’ and just in the game for the money.
On a domestic scale the popularity of football has never been greater in China. Stadiums are averaging 23,000 fans per game which is currently at a record high. However, popular culture in China is to follow a hero in the game, which is why the new influx of top quality stars should help drive fan engagement forward.
So what might actually happen?
There is no doubting there is massive potential in China. With president Xi on a 10-year tenure, Chinese football will theoretically have government backing for a while yet to come.
Arsene Wegner says clubs should be ‘worried’ by what is happening. ‘Because China looks to have the financial power to move the whole game to China. We know it’s just a consequence of economic power and they have that.’
If Alex Texiera is worth £37.5 million and Jiangsu Suning were reportedly willing to pay £75 million for Oscar, surely it is only a matter of time before the £100 million bracket is breached.
It is easy to imagine all of the Chinese clubs offering astonishing fees for players over the course of the summer, as they continue Chinese footballing revolution continues.