China’s Super League imploded just as dramatically as it burst onto the scene
When a Chinese Super League manager sat down last week and was asked about the foreign players on his team, he gave an honest and revealing answer.
“They are now beyond my control,” Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic head coach Chang Woe-ryong told reporters. In truth, no one has had any control over the country’s elite for quite some time.
In the past 12 months, Chinese football has collapsed at an alarming rate. The top teams withdrew and stories emerged of unpaid players, some even being sent home with their own laundry.
It’s a farce of the brave project that saw money pumped into gambling in the Far East, based on President Xi Jingping’s dream of seeing his nation become a real contender for World Cup glory.
In its heyday, the CSL was turning the heads of the footballing world, with astronomical salaries offered as it competed against the world’s most established clubs to attract some of the world’s best talent.
It worked, as Oscar, Paulinho, Rafa Benitez and Marouane Fellaini all swapped the Premier League for China, with some of the game’s most recognizable names bringing with them the look of Europe.
Chinese Super League starts paying for years of unregulated player spending
One transfer in particular, however, attracted more attention than others. Carlos Tevez, on leaving Juventus, was offered a contract by Shanghai Shenhua in 2016 worth £ 650,000 a week. This equates to the former Manchester United and City forward gaining a pound per second.
“I remember doing this statistic with Dan Walker on BBC Breakfast and he almost fell off the couch,” Rob Wilson, football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University. recount Sportsmail.
“Tevez was able to earn the average annual salary of a person living in Shanghai in three and a half days. You have this situation completely polarized against the backdrop of quite severe poverty.
“The Carlos Tevezes of this world really treated the Chinese Super League like a cash cow. They offered no real value. They didn’t generate the crowds or the interest they really needed.
Indeed, most of the football in China was still played in largely empty stadiums. Since the restart this month, an average attendance of 4,656 has been recorded. It’s pretty much the same middle door Walsall receives in League Two.
It’s not that the waste is entirely the fault of the players. The large amounts offered were the result of a league that was not properly regulated.
China’s one and only participation in the World Cup was in 2002. It created a frenzy across the country, with a generation of fans falling in love with football. It also caught the president’s attention.
No signing has been more symptomatic of China’s troubles than the arrival of an aging Carlos Tevez
Xi has made no secret of his desire to see China at the top of world football. In an effort to hasten their ascent, an aggressive plan has been crafted to improve the country’s football infrastructure, with schools and youth academies being sanctioned.
The space required for the construction of these centers attracted real estate companies, which took shares in the CSL teams in order to access the purchase of the land made available for development, most of them bearing their names. on their clubs in the process for further publicity. A financial crisis in the Far East has made matters worse.
Before the league kicked off this season, 15 of the 16 clubs had ties to real estate in China. The 16th – defending champions Jiangsu Suning – folded in February.
“They were trying to buy 150 years of history,” says Wilson.
“If you look at the way the structures and the European leagues have evolved over that period, we got to the situation where we are now with the Premier League, La Liga and so on.
Jiangsu Suning’s training facilities empty after team shutdown in February this year
“In England, we finally have a team that can compete on a European stage at the European Championships.
“What China has decided to do is accelerate its position as the world’s football superpower so that a Chinese team can potentially win the World Cup. What they have shown is that it is simply not possible to do that.
They have a disastrous system left.
Top foreign players have had their contracts terminated, with Renato Augusto and Fernando Martins appealing to FIFA to complain about the payouts that never arrived.
Fellow Brazilian Miranda lost £ 7.5million when Suning pulled back. While he may bring in lawyers to help him fight for his money, it’s a whole different case for local billiards now without a club.
However, the players haven’t done much to increase attendance or generate sustained interest in CSL.
“These are players who have very little access to the international market,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, general secretary of the FIFPro players’ union, as reported by The New York Times in October. “If their clubs go bankrupt, the chances of finding a job as a footballer are very slim. So that effectively puts them out of work.
The regulations have arrived, but too late. A tax on foreign signings has prevented clubs from offering ridiculous transfer fees, before a salary cap was put in place this season, meaning a foreign player could not earn more than 3 million dollars. euros (£ 2.5million) in one year. Investors have been discouraged from using them as an advertising tool as they are no longer allowed to put their own business name in clubs.
On the pitch, there were fears that the league would struggle to resume this month after a forced hiatus to allow the national team to focus on their qualifying campaign for Qatar 2022. They won one game and have six points behind on a roadblock. place with four games to play.
Guangzhou FC, historically the best team in China with eight CSL titles to their name, have had to take a young squad to the Asian Champions League this year. They finished bottom of their group, losing all six matches and scoring only once.
Evergrande, the owners of the club, are now in default. Reports suggest that players took their own kit to clean in an attempt to avoid any further bills.
R&F Properties, the owners of the city of Guangzhou, have notified debts they may not be able to settle in the next month. The problems keep piling up.
The league was on hiatus to help China prepare for the World Cup qualifiers, but it didn’t help much
What remains for fans is not what the excitement of six years ago promised.
“With great expectations come great disappointments,” jokes Zhao Xiaoou, a Chinese football expert who directs Wild East Football.
“You see a lot of player payment arrears, management payment arrears. Everyone has given up, except the Ministry of Sports.
“We have already seen that the standards are lower than they were five years ago. You will hear from economists that the Chinese economy is having a bit of a hangover. It’s the same in football, just a little more emotionally.