The Chinese Invasion: Which are China's top 5 famous football clubs?
When three of the four costliest transfers of a particular window are towards a hitherto unheralded country in world football, you know times are a-changing. This is exactly what happened when during this latest January transfer window, 3 players from top European football leagues moved to China for a combined total of an eye-watering £90 million.
And these are not players at the dusk of their footballing careers looking for a last payday, which was said when Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka moved to China. These 3 are Brazilian international midfielder Ramires (Chelsea), Colombian hotshot striker Jackson Martinez (Atletico Madrid) and purported Liverpool-bound Brazilian striker Alex Teixeira (Shakhtar Donetsk) - players currently at the zenith of their footballing prowess and coveted by top clubs.
For a country which has only qualified for the World Cup finals once (in 2002, where they were eliminated in the group stages) and ranks 81st in the latest FIFA rankings, this is certainly a big statement of intent. And make no mistake, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
For this is possibly the start of a top-down driven approach initiated by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to turn his country into a global footballing powerhouse within the next decade and double the size of the Chinese sporting economy by 2025. An announcement from the government read:
“Throughout the country there are currently about 5,000 primary and secondary schools specialised in football. By 2020 this number is expected to reach 20,000, and by 2025 it will reach 50,000.”
Chinese business tycoons are gradually buying into this vision of their President. They are investing huge amounts into buying teams in the Chinese Super League (the Chinese equivalent of the English Premier League). Real estate companies own 13 of the 16 first division teams.
For investors currying for favours from the political establishment, it helps if you own a football team and show yourself aligned to the national interest by contributing to the most popular spectator sport in China. They are also buying stakes in some of the biggest global clubs as well like Manchester City (13%) and Atletico Madrid (20%).
Not only investors, the Chinese people are also getting involved in enhancing the stature of their country’s top flight football league. The Chinese Super League had an average attendance of just under 22,000 in 2015, up by 17% on the previous year’s figures, just a snip behind Serie A and Ligue 1 and catching up fast.
Another case in point is the television rights. China Media Capital paid US$1.2bn for the television rights to the Chinese Super League (for a five year period) which is a significant premium on the US$9m that broadcasters paid for the previous year.
We now take a look at the 5 most famous clubs in China.