We talk about world football and the focus is almost always on footballers and managers plying their trade in the top European leagues (England, France, Italy, Germany and Spain). Although leagues in Holland, Portugal and to some extent Russia might stake a claim for inclusion. With well-structured leagues and cup competitions, fully packed stadiums and massive yearly revenues from sponsorship’s and TV rights, it is virtually every footballer and managers dream to build a career in Europe.
Before a conclusion is drawn on my earlier assertion let me categorically state that South America and to some extent Africa have produced world class players over the years, however not much can be made with respect to their domestic leagues or continental club championships.
Historically most big clubs in big leagues were run by fans who doubled up as shareholders until the emergence of takeover bids from wealthy businessmen.
There has been an influx of Russian money (Chelsea), American money (Manchester United & Liverpool), Arab money (Man City and PSG) and not forgetting Asian money (Leicester city and Birmingham).
Whiles the allure of investing in football’s bigger European franchises are great and rewarding business wise and trophy wise, it has only developed European football at the expense of the most “donor” continents.
Step up China Money and Chinese super league, a new kid on the block which is posing a threat to European football in terms of attracting and keeping talented footballers and tactically astute coaches. Boasting of world class players like Jackson Martinez, Carlos Tevez and Oscar not forgetting the World Cup winning coach in Luis Felipe Scolari (Brazil 2002) and Former Man City coach Manuel Pellegrini.
An inquisition into why football’s priced assets are making the move from Europe to the Far East can be attributed to these factors:
Loyalty, Legacy or Money?
Loyalty in football is next to extinct in the modern game, the likes Ryan Giggs (Manchester Utd), Tony Adams (Arsenal), Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), John Terry (Chelsea), Paolo Maldini (AC Milan) all represented a rare feat of players who started and effectively ending their careers at the same club whiles ignoring the allure of big bucks elsewhere. Even if they left for big bucks it was in the twilight of their footballing careers which served as a retirement package for years of service to the beautiful game.
On the contrary, footballers at the peak of their careers such as Hulk, Oscar,Pelle, Texeira, Lavezzi,Gervinho and Martinez have moved from their respective European clubs to China whiles having their weekly wages doubled or tripled in the process.
Modern football is flooded with broadcasting and sponsorship money hence most teams have the financial muscle to attract the best players by offering mouthwatering wages. On 7 July 2015, Asamoah Gyan moved from Ai Ain to Shanghai SIPG with a reported weekly wage of £227,000 agreed. Prior to this move, many questioned his decision to move from Sunderland FC to Al Ain criticizing the player for a lack of career focus and further accused him of being a money grabbing opportunist.
According to Forbes, in the 2015-16 season the Chinese Super League’s spending sky rocketed, reaching a record $450 million. This figure is expected to increase when the league’s window closes during 2016-17 season.
Like life, every footballer has career choices; Leave a legacy like Zidane, Cruyff and Ronaldinho, stay loyal like John Terry, Puyol and Maldini or finally get paid huge like Hulk, Oscar or Gyan.
Lack of 1st team action among bigger clubs and reluctance to sell players to rivals.
Most big clubs in Europe possess an array of talented players, a regular football game consists of 10 outfield players and a goal keeper. Barring any loss in form, extreme fatigue or injuries most clubs tend to field their best XI consistently and only rotate in competitions deemed not so important. Players angling or itching to play regularly to salvage their careers would prefer transferring to an equally competitive team which in most cases are direct rivals to their current clubs. In a bid to prevent the next team from benefiting from such a fringe top players talents, the parent club would prefer selling him to a Chinese team because their leagues vary and would obviously pay over the top to attract such players. A classic example is Oscar’s £60m move from Chelsea FC to Shanghai SIPG. He is a 25 year old Brazilian who lost his starting place in a talented Chelsea side. He is a player who would fit in at any of Chelsea’s competitors such as Arsenal, Man City or even Juventus. However, the club saw it competitively and obviously financially prudent to sell him overseas. The likes of Mikel Obi, Ramires followed a similar trajectory to China.
New footballing Culture to embrace and impose their skill set on
Competitions such as the Asian Champions league coupled with other domestic cup competitions provide foreign footballers a new chance to develop their skills and in turn win some silverware.
With a mixture of both world class coaches (Luis Felipe Scolari, Manuel Pellegrini, André Villas-Boas) and relatively established managers (Fabio Cannavaro,Gustavo Poyet) ,the league is blessed with loads of tactical brains that will surely beguile an emerging footballing nation.
Also, the legendary Dutch and AC Milan trio of Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten were unveiled in Beijing to mark the inauguration of the Huaaoqidi youth training academy as coaches. Obviously, tasked to introduce the famed Netherlands youth training system and fuse it with the Chinese way.
Will the foreign influx of stars to China continue? I believe it will. However, they will attract very good players but not the very best. European super clubs must allow other thriving European teams chances to progress else they would be compelled to sell their best players to China.
But hey, football is meant to be a global sport right?
Author: Terence Wood