Chinese football is on the rise and flexing its financial muscle.
China’s rulers want the nation to make its mark in the global game, and the ultimate aim is to both host and win the World Cup.
To drive up standards domestically, Chinese Super League clubs are luring high-profile players and managers to the Far East with big transfer fees and even bigger salaries.
This has set alarm bells ringing in Europe’s leading leagues, who are used to being the No.1 destination for the world’s best footballing talent.
Brazilian international midfielder Oscar is a case in point. Shanghai SIPG paid Chelsea a reported £60m for the 25-year-old and are paying him around £400,000 a week
It’s unlikely that any British or continental club would have paid so much for his services. When Chelsea bought Oscar from Internacional in 2012, the fee was around £25m.
The problem (as ever) lies in money, but how much blame can be attached to China for this latest inflation of the transfer global market?
Looking at the recent history of football, the Premier League and La Liga have been pulling off this stunt for years. Prime examples include:
- Ronaldo – £83.7M transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid
- Paul Pogba – £89M transfer from Juventus to Manchester United
- Luis Suarez – £75M transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona
- Gareth Bale – £85.3M transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid
- Neymar – £71.5M transfer from Santos to Barcelona
The list of blockbusting moves goes on and on.
There appears to be an emerging pattern where every decade or so, a rich league emerges and snatches up players from “less rich” ones.
Obviously, the Premier League is not in the poor house, so it’s more a case of millionaire/billionaire club owners trying to outspend each other.
Players can only benefit financially from this transfers-and-salaries arms race. Fans in Europe and elsewhere, meanwhile, may begin to see more of their idols being seduced away by Chinese wealth.
Carlos Tevez, 33, joined Shanghai Shenhua from Boca Juniors earlier this year on a reported salary of over £600,000 a week.
Clearly, this kind of offer it too good for any footballer to turn down if they’re nearing the end of their career.
Chinese football are just the latest – but won’t be the last – of the big spenders. They’re giving the Premier League and La Liga a taste of their own medicine and it appears to be quite bitter.
It may still be some time before China can appeal to the very best players of the game. There have been were rumours all over the media about the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski being approached by Chinese clubs, but they decided to stay in Europe.
Whatever the riches available in China, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League remain more prestigious and popular, while Europe’s Champions League is seen as the ultimate club competition.
In February 2016, Ezequiel Lavezzi (pictured) joined Hebei China Fortune. His transfer fee was undisclosed but it’s reported that he earns up to £493,000 a week.
His new club also provided him with two houses, two cars, a cook and a driver.
Upon his arrival, the former PSG attacker was dubbed as ‘the next Maradona’. But after being injured on international duty, his 10 games for HCF yielded three assists and no goals.
The Argentine forward, once of Napoli and PSG, was only 30 when he moved, but will career ever hit the heights again? Would he have been better off – professionally if not financially – staying in Europe?
How long can this Chinese-inspired transfer-and-salaries bubble continue to grow before it surely bursts?
Given China’s enormous wealth and resources, it will take a change of heart by its political leadership to rein in the spending by CSL clubs.
“The Chinese FA have quickly realised that the fees and wages being paid are spiralling out of control”
As with the 2008 Olympic Games, football is seen as a good national investment and a chance to improve their country’s reputation and standing on the global stage.
Having a more prestigious league will certainly boost the chances of China hosting a future World Cup, with the home advantage that entails.
The import of world-class players from outside of Asia could also inspire young players there to take more interest in the sport.
However, the Chinese FA have quickly realised that the fees and wages being paid are spiralling out of control.
In order to keep spending in check, they are planning on introducing a transfer cap. This means that if a team spends more than €30M on a player they will face a huge tax bill on top.
This revenue would be used to fund Chinese football’s youth development. The scheme is known as the “18-point program”.
China is still a long way from becoming a footballing superpower but it can’t be ruled out.
First, it needs to establish itself within its own continent and region before it has any chance of realising ambitions on the world stage.
“China have only ever qualified for Fifa’s showcase finals once before, in 2002”
The most successful Chinese team in the Asian Champions League is Guangzhou Evergrande, having won the competition only twice.
Their victories are recent, however (2013, 2017), meaning they might be a team on the rise, but certainly not quite there yet.
There is also a lack of legacy and history in Chinese football which is something that cant’t be bought. It needs to be produced and achieved and takes decades to accomplish.
Most telling in terms of its World Cup ambitions, China have only ever qualified for Fifa’s showcase finals once before, in 2002.
It’s going to take a lot of progress at home for its national team to achieve those ambitions.