China has transformed into a global economic superpower shaping their country for the best part of two decades. Companies utilize China’s incredibly cost-effective labour and manufacturing facilities to create production hubs. All of the world’s major brands have a base of operation setup across China notably: Apple, Toyota, Samsung, Sony and Intel to name a few. These are just a few names in a long list of manufacturing plants that have been setup to take advantage of lower costs. Why am I writing about the Chinese economy? Football in China has taken a giant step forward with major investment being pumped into the league and teams. Many clubs have been spending on top players for large transfer fees.
Widespread corruption, match fixing claims and allegations have been associated with the Chinese league for years with bribing players and officials almost a norm. Elkseon moved from Guangzhou Evergrande to Shanghai SIPG to ‘improve the competiveness of the league’. It is like saying Real Madrid would sell Gareth Bale to Valencia to create a more exciting title race. Sponsors started to shy away from the region and disassociate themselves from the league. All of this has affected the population’s interest in domestic football and have sought to fuel their footballing fix from foreign leagues. President Xi Jinping wanted to create a change and one of his top priorities was to revolutionize and clean up Chinese football. A self-confessed fan, he has stated he wants China to qualify, win and host the World Cup even making it a mandatory part of the school curriculum. Hence this has seen the Chinese Super League see a substantial influx of money into infrastructure, players and coaches. The government has caused businesses to invest to gain political favours and a desire to be recognized at a global level. Alibaba Group bought a 50% stake in Guangzhou Evergrande for £193m to capitalise on a growing sport in China. Considering one of the presidents main targets is to qualify and stage the World Cup, investing capital into prime players signifies their intent to showcase raw and exciting talent that can be as entertaining as other major European leagues.
Pay Day – A New Era
Shanghai Shenhua, Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning are just a few names that have spent lavishly during the winter transfer window taking everyone by surprise. We have all seen the Chinese clubs spend money on European based players in the past with the likes of Tim Cahill, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka all having stints in the CSL but these were players entering the twilight stages of their careers. Recently, that trend has changed; several Latin American and European players have decided to sign up with Chinese clubs supposedly for the growing stature and quality of football. This winter transfer window Chinese clubs have been responsible for four of the biggest deals, with room for more with their window open till the 26th February 2016. Brazilian enforcer Ramires of Chelsea Football Club moved to Jiangsu Suning for a 7 day record £25m, Shanghai Shenua lured the Colombian Fredy Guarin for 13m Euros and Hebei China Fortune completing a move for Gervinho from Roma for 18m Euros according to the figures released by Transfermarkt. Jackson Martinez formerly of Atlético Madrid moved to Guangzhou Evergrande for £31m just before Alex Teixiera of Shakhtar Donetsk signed for Jiangsu Suning for £38m breaking the Chinese Super League transfer record for a third time in 10 days. Even the second tier of Chinese football seems to have the same spending power with Tianjin Tigers almost pulling off a coup for Alexandre Pato, the former AC Milan striker. It seems as we are not far away from the first £100m pound transfer and it’s a scary thought. Considering how inflation, form and even nationality have played a hand in transfer prices, this will only cause average prices for players to increase leaving cash-strapped clubs to struggle even more. With financial fair play not affecting the Chinese clubs, the inequality will upset the equilibrium further with the richer clubs getting richer and poorer clubs forced to battle to retain and attract quality players all while balancing the books selling their star players.
Is It Sustainable Though?
However, the Chinese Super League solely relying on overseas players is not the only way they plan to promote themselves. Money will not solve their problems alone. One of the main issues lies in the restrictions to the number of foreign players allowed per squad which has been increased to allow clubs to add more foreign quality and flair to the league; 4 foreign players and 1 from an Asian affiliated club. Promoting local talent is on the agenda as shown by the state-of-the-art academy invested by Guangzhou Evergrande with Real Madrid accompanying 22,000 students and 22 Spanish coaches. Guangzhou Evergrande defender Zheng Linping has been a beacon of hope for the CSL. Likened to Sergio Ramos because of his similar playing style and looks the defender has been linked with the likes of Chelsea Football Club and Real Madrid proving that there could possibly be a place for Chinese players in Europe. Team mate and club captain Zheng Zi has played in the Champions league for Celtic.
Matter of Time
With this amount of investment, it would be relatively fair to assume that the country will be looking to see a return on investment over time and quite frankly it can be good that more leagues are becoming competitive and relevant allowing for more competition and create more exposure but the reality is the rise in inflation and the economic downturn could possibly throw some clubs into bankruptcy if capital is spent wisely. We may not see much of an improvement in the quality of football outside of Europe to deter our attention but with the way things are going it shouldn’t surprise anyone if we see another Chinese player take centre stage and start taking notice of what is taking place on the pitch very soon.