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Chinese Super League looking to challenge European elite

ByTomas Meehan

Feb 8, 2017

The Premier League and its counterparts – La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, Ligue 1 in France, and the Bundesliga in Germany – are the best football leagues in the world. They have, without doubt, the best teams and best players.

Tempted by the allure of an attractive pension fund, many seasoned performers on the European stage have sought to retire elsewhere, such as the MLS (Major League Soccer), with David Beckham’s infamous move to LA Galaxy 10 years ago an attempt to get the Americans just as into football as they were into, well, (American) football.

Now there are leagues all around the world with money to throw around and attract big name signings – as if the Premier League did not pay handsomely enough. Hence, places such as China are turning into hotspots for players who are well known but not necessarily household names and not right at the end of their careers either.

One of the unique selling points of the Chinese Super League is that it looks for players who still have many playing years in them. This may help it to overtake the MLS, which has traditionally sought brand names whose shelf life is limited, such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.

The fact that the Chinese League aims to buy players while they are still fresh changes the perception of it from a place players go at the end of their careers, to a place where fresh faces are found, putting it in a better position to compete with European markets than the MLS.

One such player is Brazilian Ricardo Goulart who was poached from Cruzeiro by Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao at 23 in 2015 and netted an impressive 55 goals in 88 games over the past two seasons. Other Brazilians at the club include Paulinho and Alan Carvalho as well as Colombian Jackson Martinez. The team is run by well-known manager Luiz Felipe Scolari having been previously headed by Sven-Göran Eriksson.

There is also a South Korean in the first team, nonetheless, Guangzhou Evergrande remains overwhelmingly Chinese. This is because currently there is a limit to just four foreign players per team, and players such as Oscar, who completed a £60 million move to Shanghai SIPG from Chelsea last month with a £400,000 per week pay packet, have prompted the Chinese Super League to impose a wage and transfer cap on clubs.

The Super League recognises that it must work to build its own stars. China as a whole also needs help at grassroots level, instead of wasting huge sums on expensive imports.

This has a political impact: China recognises that it could one day overtake the US as the number one superpower. Football, as the worldwide sport of the people, is the perfect way to raise China’s profile in the global arena.

The rise of Chinese domestic football has also been driven by the incumbent president of China, Xi Jingping, who, as a massive fan of football, wanted to see Chinese football do better. Having a population of 1.3 billion people, with the right investment in resources, both on a state level as well as attracting interest from businesses such as Alibaba, China could be a strong footballing force in the future.

The president is also trying to incentivise schools to play football. The best of these will feed into what is believed to be the largest football academy in the world, based in Guangzhou.

While the Chinese Super League is not likely to dent the prestige of Europe’s five main leagues any time soon, it may slowly turn into the number one option for players looking further afield, once they have exhausted all their options in England, Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, that is.


Image courtesy of joshjdss

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