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Evergrande and China’s investment carousel in soccer | Sports | DW

Evergrande and China’s investment carousel in soccer | Sports | DW

In 2011, the Chinese title was for the first time won by the Guangzhou city team. Just a year earlier, had bought the club. Funded by the real estate giant, Guangzhou won seven more titles in over the next eight years, as well as two Asian championships.

In 2021, however, Evergrande is 261 billion euros in debt, and the future of the club is uncertain. It is a story that reflects the carousel that Chinese football has lived on for the past decade.

Guangzhou spent a lot on spectacular signings, including that of former Brazilian international Paulinho and World Cup winners Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Other clubs, financed by owners susceptible to the influence of the Chinese government – for which the world’s most populous country must become a football powerhouse – followed Guangzhou’s lead.

Jiangsu FC lifted the Chinese champion cup, and two months later went bankrupt

The spiral reached its peak in the 2016-17 winter transfer market when, in a matter of two months, the Chinese Super League became the top-grossing super league in world football, spending a total of € 388 million on players. in that short span.

In December 2016, when the Shanghai SIPG paid Chelsea of ​​the English Premier League more than € 60 million for Brazilian midfielder Oscar Antonio Conte, the London team coach warned that voracious spending from China was a “danger to all players. teams of the world. ” Established European leagues seemed preoccupied with the rise of a giant new rival.

Financial problems

Conte was right that spending was dangerous, but not in the way he envisioned it. Since 2018, the Chinese authorities, alarmed by the amounts of money leaving the country by foreign players, clubs and representatives, had tried to restrict spending by introducing transfer taxes as well as salary caps.

That wasn’t enough to stop retail group Suning, whose Jiangsu FC club won its first championship in November 2020, from disbanding just three months later. For its part, Guangzhou FC has not ceased to exist, but its days of hegemony as an emblem of Chinese football are surely over.

China is not doing well in the tie heading to Qatar 2022

“The relationship between corporations and football is too close and mismanaged in China,” Simon Chadwick, a professor at the Emlyon Business School specializing in sports economics, told DW.

“ in China needs a new agreement, one in which the national soccer federation has the power and autonomy to regulate activity and relationships with organizations like Evergrande.”

China’s failure in the World Cups

In 2016, the China Football Association (CFA) announced plans to make China an Asian power by 2030 and a world leader by 2050.

Returning to the World Cup, after a single appearance in 2002, is seen as critical to that country’s development and national pride.

“It will be very difficult for China to qualify for the 2022 World Cup as there is still a big gap between China and the best Asian teams such as Japan, Australia, Iran, Korea and Saudi Arabia,” Ma Dexing, a commentator for China soccer.

In September, China lost to Japan and Australia in the first two games of the final qualifying round for 2022 and reaching Qatar already seems like a long shot, despite extensive preparation.

Hotbeds of talent

In soccer, it’s no secret that the key to getting to the top is producing more and better players. A decade ago, the Ministry of Education and the CFA started a massive program for children to learn to play soccer.

At the end of 2019, 27,000 schools in China were offering special education to some 27 million aspiring soccer players, a number that is expected to reach 50,000 schools and 50 million homegrown players by 2025. Some 40,000 pitches have been built or renovated, and thousands of coaches have received training.

China has a clear formula for success in football: having more and better players, starting with the quarry

Tom Byer, a youth soccer development expert in Japan, the country whose system China wanted to emulate, was brought to Beijing to help expand soccer education for both children and coaches. He believes that progress has been made and that the departure of the famous foreign stars is not all bad.

“But high-profile foreigners occupy key positions that Chinese players should already occupy,” Byer said. “Now the coaches in China say that their best players are the youngest, and they are giving them more opportunities.”

The scoring charts of the Chinese Super League had been dominated in recent years by foreign stars, but now players like Zhang Yuning and Liu Wenjun are making their presence felt. More like them are needed. Ma predicts that it will be 10-15 years before China begins to consistently produce better players.


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