The Chinese boom and the emergence of European football’s nemesis
With the January transfer window finally drawing to a close, the daily transfer sagas linking a star player to the Chinese Super League has come to a temporary halt. Big players such as Carlos Tevez and Axel Witsel decided to ply their trade in the far-east this winter. But the transfer of Chelsea’s young Brazilian midfielder, Oscar, bewildered football fans and pundits.
Oscar, who was a peripheral figure under Antonio Conte’s rejuvenated Chelsea side was the biggest name to be tempted by the Chinese Super league. Shanghai SIPG splashed a gargantuan amount of around £60 million on the 25-year-old Brazilian, giving a strong signal of intent to the famed nations of European football that the Chinese Super league has gone full throttle to become the antagonist to the top European leagues.
While China has excelled at the Olympics and Paralympics, it has only ever qualified for one football World Cup, in 2002, where they lost all the matches. So, how a country whose national team is caught in an existential crisis (ranked 82 in the world) thrive on to produce a multi-million dollar football project (Chinese Super League) that would prove to be beneficial in the rejuvenation of the national team?
The answer to this question is deeply embedded in the roots of the economic success that China has encountered in the past three decades making the country a social, economic and political superpower. It is the long-term vision of President Xi Jinping that has stimulated the functioning of the project.
In 1978, China ranked 9th in the nominal GDP with $214 billion, 38 years later it jumped to second place with an astronomical nominal GDP of $9.2 trillion. All thanks to the implementation of the neo-economic growth model whose foundations were laid on attracting private investments and increasing exports.
Although people might argue that the business system followed by the country might be fragile and could do more harm than good in the near future, the stats suggest otherwise.
The astounding economic growth that China has experienced in the last few decades has led the country to become the world’s largest economy that boasts an average (past 30 years) annual GDP growth rate of 10% approximately.
China is a global hub for manufacturing and is the largest exporter of goods in the world. Developments in the economic precinct imply development in the real estate sector, which led to the development of potential investors and the emergence of new real estate based economic sharks.
This is one of the reasons why 13 of the 16 Super League’s teams have been bankrolled by massive corporate investments coming from real estate developers, Evergrande real estate group, property developers Guangzhou R&F, Greentown China holdings limited company and TEDA holdings to name a few.
The Xi factor
Xi Jinping, the President of China is an ambitious man. Being a football aficionado, he aims to develop China into a football superpower in the coming years.
Recently, the Chinese government has released a comprehensive football reform that lays emphasises on the need to develop youth players as a result of which officials have declared football as a part of the national curriculum.
About 20,000 football themed schools are to open by 2018 with the goal of producing more than 100,000 players. In short, China wants to embed the development of football in economic and social development planning.
Since Xi became president in 2012, Chinese businessmen have backed his vision of the Chinese league, giving cut throat competition to the Premier League, by buying top players like Alex Teixeira, Ramires, Tevez, Oscar, Hulk and Gervinho to name a few, splashing out more than £280 million in total on foreign players.
President Jinping previously stated that he wants China to host a World Cup in the next 15 years. With the vast network of private funding, the re-emergence of the Chinese Super league and massive sports related infrastructural development, this looks likely.
The massive spending spree that the Chinese clubs are on can prove to be beneficial for the home-grown players as this would provide the Chinese players with excellent experience of playing with massively talented foreign players. The league also gives homegrown players the opportunity to be trained by world-class coaches such as Andre Villa-Boas and Manuel Pellegrini.
Celebrated football names like Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Arsene Wenger have sighted their concerns in public, regarding the development of the Chinese Super League as a potential threat to the Premier league.
Also Read: China - World football superpower by 2050?
Despite the animadversions from the whole world, no one can argue that if the Chinese Super League can prove to be a success, then it could do wonders for Chinese football, in particular, and the whole of Asia in the general sense.
Albeit calling the big Chinese project European football’s nemesis, might be a bit of an exaggeration at present, if the economic development of the country keeps on going at this pace and if the super rich businessmen keep investing such large figures on the clubs’ squad and infrastructure, then who knows?
After all, China has taken a step in the right direction, and as the Irish proverb goes: A good start is half the battle (“Tus math leath na hoibre”).