Should UEFA be worried about China’s Footballing ambitions?

Five is the number of times the transfer record was broken in China’s top football league CSL ….Five! Clearly China’s footballing ambitions are high, and with a host of top European transfer targets choosing the wealth of the CSL, is this the signs of a rising power to the east or just another league with a little too much money to spare?

Lets firstly take a look at who these new boys on the scene are:

  • Chinese Super League (CSL) formed in 2004 after rebranding of former top division Chinese Football Association Jia-A League.
  • Consists of 16 teams,and relegated teams goes China’s second tier, China League One.
  • Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao are the current champions in 2015 and also the most successful team, winning a total of five times since the inauguration of the league.
  • Top teams compete in the AFC Champions League.
  • Guanzhou Evergrande Taobao are the current champions AFC Champions League 2015.
  • CSL clubs have taken their spending to almost £300 million during the 2016 transfer window, almost three times more than they spent in 2015.

Well its safe to say that Chinese teams have went on a ‘little’ spending spree recently, as they easily parting ways with ridiculous amounts of money such as £47 million for Hulk, £42.5 million for Alex Texeria and £35.7 million for Jackson Martinez; all of whom were hot properties for top European teams. Though not only are the transfer fees high, the wages offered are far from normal with the likes of Eziquiel Lavezzi, who once was a Liverpool, Inter Milan and Manchester United target, receiving a staggering £400,000-a- week deal from Herbei Fortune FC in the CSL. Clearing using the allure of wealth as their main selling point, they have proven to be able to win the race for these players signatures and more importantly, the players are turning down the opportunity to play for Europe’s top sides as well as participate in the coveted Champions League.

Lets us not forget about the Qatari Stars League in the Middle East who are also known as a ‘splashing their cash’ league with stars in the past such as the Real Madrid legend Raul, famously moving to Al Sadd in the Qatari Stars League and more recently Barcelona legend Xavi opting for the wealth offered by the Middle East. Though, if we look past the prestige of these players, it’s true to say that each of them were at the end of their careers so in essence were looking for a final pay cheque before they ended their careers. Not exactly the case in China where players, who arguably are at their peaks, are choosing to go to China. And to add further credibility to the CSL, Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao is currently the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Champions League champions (equivalent to the UEFA Champions League but in Asia.. Just in case that wasn’t clear..)

So clearly there is some merit to the CSL, and with money being the mainstay of modern-day football, Chinese clubs certainly holds an advantage based on their seemingly never-ending wealth and economy. Even Sky Sports have now taken the opportunity to broadcast the CSL on their channel as well.

Side note; currently Manchester City, Birmingham city, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers are either owned or co-owned by Chinese investors…. The Chinese revolution has begun guys!

But realistically does this mean that clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United etc should be re-evaluating their transfer policy and throwing ridiculous money out as well? Well no not really. Though the wealth of the CSL is evident, the league itself is in a vulnerable state. They rely on these glossy, high fee signings to screen the real problems that exist in the league. Bribery of referees, corruption, match-fixing and failure to pay wages are just some of the current issues that exist in the league. Famously, Nicholas Anelka and Didier Drogba, who were two high-profile signings for Shanghai Shenhua, were involved in a scandal where they did not receive wages for up to three months; and ultimately left the club after one season.

Throwing titanic portions of money may allow a business to grow and prosper but in football, these short-term solutions do not allow for longevity. China, rather than spend money on footballing foundations to nuture and grow young talent for their own league, have opted for the quick fix option which we know in the footballing world is never the right way to ensure your club has a future. After all, football, (though it relies heavily on money) is a lifestyle, not a business.

Even after all the glamourous signings and headlines they have made, we should note that China is currently ranked 84th in Fifa World rankings (currently sitting in between St. Kitts and Nevis and Honduras) and they have only ever featured at the World Cup once, at the 2002 World Cup. For a league to become truly powerful, they need both strong foundations and an attractive league.

While the ambitions of China and the CSL can not be refuted, it has a long way to go before top European clubs should be worried about losing out on top transfer targets. Corruptions and scandals within the league need to be nullified and strong foundations need to be established.  Promoting a footballing culture within their country to find and grow young talent is essential, instead of always relying on foreign export. These things ultimately will take time. Whether or not they will adhere to this model is another story but certainly the current state of the league will not change overnight.

 

Image credits: Skysports.com

 

 

 

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