Are The Chinese The Next Big Thing In Football?

When I and every other football fan thinks of the top football nations we think of England, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the list goes one. But the modern day football fan will now see that the Chinese are on the rise in the football world.

With China having a population of nearly double the entire European continent, it’s no surprise that the country is able to excel at sport. The first time I really noticed China as a mega powerhouse of sport was when they hosted the Olympic Games in 2008. They topped the medal table and won gold in sports they had struggled to even compete in years gone by, but as hosts they had the platform to prepare more athletes to dominate the games. Although Chinese football has achieved some success over the years, it was never a sport where the country excelled in. Heritage is a massive part of Chinese culture and slowly, but surely they have worked at making the sport a priority and we are beginning to see the hard work pay off, not to mention an astronomical amount of money (its always about money) spent on rebranding the new Chinese Super League.

So what exactly is the Chinese Super League? Well, up until 2012 I could not actually name one team from the league. I first took notice of the league when Didier Drogba swapped then-European Champions Chelsea for life at Shanghai Shenhua. The Ivoirian’s move was picked up by the English press and fans around the country began franticly searching his new team and stumbled across the relatively unknown Chinese Super League. The league is made up of 16 teams and governed by the Chinese FA. At the time of Drogba’s move many drew parallels between the MLS in the United States as it was seen as another “old star” heading abroad for a big pay check before retiring. There are definitely similarities between the two leagues, but also some obvious differences. Although many of the “old guard” from Europe’s elite clubs, have indeed moved over to both countries, it’s the Chinese that have been able to pry some of Europe’s top talents away from the “big boys”. One notable difference between the Chinese league and their counterparts in North America is that they have the complete freedom to sign whoever they want with no restrictions such as the salary cap that is a prominent feature in the MLS. All of these clubs are able to offer substantially more money than Europe’s elite because the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule stopping these teams from building franchises.

The recent transfer window in January showcased that the Chinese Super League meant serious business. The league’s transfer record was broken three times in the space of ten days, with Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez and Ramires, all players with more of a proven track record. The “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch my back” policy is the way that business is done according to Professor Simon Chadwick, who has followed the league’s transformation. If the money is there, then it won’t be deemed as reckless, although for the foreseeable future the big spending will continue to spark debate amongst European onlookers. Over 50% of the money pumped into the clubs comes from real estate industry. If you are not a fan of the way clubs with this approach operate, one thing you can praise the Chinese Super League and the Chinese FA is its rules regarding home grown talent. The league rules state that only five foreign players can be part of a team and all the goalkeepers must be Chinese born, so they aren’t all about splashing the cash. Some of Europe’s top managers have also gone over to China to help with the league’s coaching side of the game. The league caters to a millions around South Asia, which is something that may be overlooked by Europeans. Perhaps one day if Sky Sports or BT pick up the phones and call China, we may see the Super League broadcast in the UK, which would open up a massive opportunity for exposure for the “Next Big Thing”.

By Matt Findlay