Diego Costa’s £30 million-per-year move to the newly enriched and mysterious Chinese Super League (CSL) may be off, but that did not stop their march in procuring other top talent from Europe:
Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Axel Witsel, Odion Ighalo, Alexandre Pato and John Obi Mikel are just some of the big names who have recently signed huge deals with CSL clubs.
For many, the idea of a young league flexing its new found wealth shouldn’t be that alien. Indeed, many of the players signed to the CSL came from the English Premier League. But this doesn’t stop the murmurs of disquiet surrounding the CSL.
Here’s what Oscar said about his big-money switch from Chelsea. “This happens with every player, if it wasn’t for money, I wouldn’t leave Brazil. Of course the Premier League [has a better] level of players in the world, but the Chinese guys are very good. They help the new players a lot, and I hope they continue this because I come to help.”
Tevez, who is now earning more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, too defended his move from boyhood club Boca Juniors to China. “I’m talking seriously. Football is only about money and I don’t like it. There are so many agents with really young footballers. It’s awful as these young players are not interested in winning titles — they only want money.”
Funnily enough, this isn’t the first time that China nabbed some of the top quality players from under the noses of European big boys. This transfer madness began when Nicolas Anelka signed for Shanghai Shenhua — China’s oldest club — where he earned £12 million a year. Didier Drogba, soon after winning the UEFA Champions League, joined his ex-Chelsea teammate on a reported salary of £10 million. This was just the beginning. The other clubs were not far behind.
Thing is though, the clubs appeared to be more interested in out-spending each other instead of out-playing each other on the pitch. Out of the 16 CSL clubs, Shanghai SIPG, Hebei China Fortune, Jiangsu Suning, Guangzhou Evergrande, Tianjin broke the bank in the pursuit of signing big-name players from the market. The likes of Jackson Martinez, Hulk, Ramires, Alex Teixeira, Graziano Pelle have all made their footballing home in China.
As the oft-quoted Captain Kirk once said “In every revolution, there’s always one man with a vision” and if there is one man to thank for reforming football in China, it is President Xi Jinping.
While the other major Asian countries were still drawing out a plan for soccer development, President Xi wasted no time in setting out a 45-year plan which set out short, medium and long term objectives and began in 2015, with an ultimate aim to become a football powerhouse by 2050 and to maximise the Chinese sports economy to more than ¥500 million ($US 73 million.)
As a soccer enthusiast, he recognizes the unbridled potential China has and wants his country to churn out players through grassroots.
His plans include:
• 20,000 state of the art football trading centres
• 70,000 new pitches
• Increase international ties by sending more athletes, coaches and referees to study and compete overseas
Furthermore, he plans to make football the country’s national sport even though the only World Cup finals they’ve ever participated in 2002 in Japan & Korea. Xi, ever the optimist, is undeterred by this stat, as he has no doubts about China’s ability in qualifying for, hosting and potentially winning the World Cup within the next 15 years.
Mr. Xi is extremely bold with his ideas, but he is also an intelligent man. He used the infrastructure and business ideals set up post 1994 in the United States as an example of how hosting a World Cup can change the face of football in a country and intends on implementing something similar in china.
Whilst the giant European leagues serve as the high bar of which the CSL , it faces competition primarily from the Major Soccer League (MLS), Indian Super League (ISL) and the Hyundai A-League (Australia). A handful of legendary footballers have veered to the MLS, A-League and ISL during autumn of their careers, mainly promote football around the world and, obviously, to line their pockets a bit further. Unlike these minor, yet competitive leagues however, the Chinese league if recent signings are anything to go by, are looking to sign players who are still in their prime.
The Footballing authorities in China are well aware that they have a Everest sized mountain to climb to reach the levels produced by European clubs, but, given the rate at which the CSL has progressed, they have every reason to be optimistic
With the backing of President Xi, the Chinese want to commit everything to make this radical plan a success. This league has the potential to match the glitz and glamour of European football, according to some in the game.
“I think it’s fantastic that players can decide to go to China and earn more money. In every profession, including yours — the press, people change jobs and earn more money and nothing is said, in fact, your friends congratulate you. It’s great, but when you are a footballer? You’re a traitor, a money grabber… It’s strange. I think it’s fantastic and I applaud those who do it but it’s odd the way it’s badly seen in football,” Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was*quoted as saying in FourFourTwo magazine.
“The fact that Oscar has signed for Shanghai means a lot for Chinese football,” so said the Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas. “The Chinese market normally attracts star players from the age of 27 or 28. Chinese football should be grateful that we’ve been able to attract him to Shanghai,” he after Shanghai SIPG bought Oscar for close to £58 million
“I wouldn’t be surprised if Messi is here in the next two years,” says Changchun Yatai English defender Jack Sealy, and going on current trend, one shouldn’t be surprised if this were to happen.
Despite all their heavy spending, China is yet to make any noise on the international stage. China is ranked 81st in the current FIFA rankings, sitting below the likes of Faroe Islands and Scotland.
In order for the Chinese soccer Dream is realised in china, they will need to do more than just splurging fervently on players. Out of their final 6 games of 2016, the Chinese national side did not register a single victory, losing to relatively lowly sides such as Kazakhstan and Syria. The focal point for Xi remains to turn the Chinese national team into a menacing force.
Will China become a powerhouse, given the amount of money they are spending?
Many may say, as is evident with England, translating heavy spending in the country’s top league to national team success is easier said than done. For some nevertheless, it it’s just a matter of time, while the rest believe it depends on the execution. These are just the early days and with strong support from the top and a population of over a billion people, I doubt anyone would bet against them achieving it.