Chinese football has attracted global headlines several times in the last few months. The most recent announcement comes from FIFA's Chinese sponsor Wanda, declaring that the world football governing body has sanctioned an annual international China Cup from next year. The China Cup will begin as a four-nation tournament and soon grow to eight teams with games played in January. The top European and South American nations will apparently be invited to compete.
This news still has to be confirmed by FIFA in an official announcement, but what remains clear is that the financial and political might of Chinese football is well past the point of being ignored. China has undertaken a spending spree in the beautiful game unprecedented in history, and with senior political backing as well, it shows they are immensely serious about putting their country on the footballing map.
In the past there has been a series of Middle Eastern and Russian investments in football, and the Chinese have followed now, keen to show the passion they have for the global sport. Chinese companies have invested $1.7 billion in sports assets (A significant majority of that related to football) since 2015, according to Bloomberg data. In 2010, that number was zero.
Chinese consortiums are backed by the richest Chinese businessmen (amongst the richest people in the world as well) in a list that includes the Dalian Wanda Group Co. founder Wang Jianlin and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Jack Ma. They’ve been at the negotiating table for some of the biggest clubs and players in world football and are beginning to finalise several deals as well.
Graziano Pelle, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Jackson Martinez and Hulk all play in the Chinese Super League now, and they have all had distinguished careers in European Football. They are also now all in the list of the Top 10 highest paid players in world football, and that is a truly stunning statistic and showcases the financial might of the Chinese Super League.
The transfer fees they’ve been shelling out have been substantial as well, Hulk was bought for €55.8 million, Alex Teixeira was snared from Liverpool’s grasp at the last minute by Jiangsu Suning for €50 million and considerable fees were paid for Pelle and Martinez as well, apart from other well-known footballers plying their trade in top European Leagues.
Chinese consortiums are also leading the race to acquire some of the world's most storied clubs now. Nanjing-based Suning Holding Group Co. paid €270 million for a 70 percent stake for Inter Milan and another group is on the verge of acquiring a reported 80 percent of 7 time European Champions AC Milan. Different consortiums have also acquired significant stakes in Manchester City and Atletico Madrid and are constantly on the lookout for more opportunities.
Additionally, A unit of Alibaba paid an amount believed to be in tens of millions of dollars, to become title sponsor of soccer governing body FIFA’s annual Club World Cup and Wanda recently signed a $150 million agreement to become FIFA’s first Chinese sponsor, a move that seems to have resulted in the formation of the China Cup mentioned in the beginning.
Backing from the President
Chinese President Xi Jinping is believed to be a keen football enthusiast and is behind the scenes of the spending spree. He wants China to improve their global soccer standing. The Chinese national team is ranked 81st, up from the 109th position in March 2013 and he wants his nation to host a World Cup soon and is also aspiring to win it by 2050. This has played a huge part in motivating Chinese businessmen and consortiums to invest in European soccer and look to refurbish their domestic league, in an effort to please their government and spur on their own interest in the game.
Coinciding with this is an effort by the government to promote sports in the urban working class. A national plan contains the ambitious goal of setting up 50,000 schools that are expected to offer specialised football training by 2025.
There are various other measures being taken to make sure world class football academies are set up in the Chinese heartland that will enable them to begin to perform on the international stage. How long it’ll take for their financial might to translate into results on the pitch remains to be seen, but it’s clear that their intentions cannot be ignored.Published 14 Jul 2016, 09:42 IST