Chinese clubs flexing their football muscle


  • The Gaffer
  • Saturday, 30 Jan 2016

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (left) stands with Xi (centre) listening to Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak (third right) during a visit to the City Football Academy in Manchester, Britain in October 2015. - Reuters

CHINA has the biggest population in the world. With great population comes better pool.

In every Olympics, you always see China finishing in the top 10 of the medal tally.

They have produced graceful gymnasts, flawless divers, powerful shuttlers and inspirational hurdlers. They have state of the art sports facilities but their discipline is second to none.

However, there is one sport where they always want to dominate but don't seem able to excel.

The last time they qualified for the FIFA World Cup was in 2002. They did not fare well. Since then, the team's form dipped, failing to qualify for subsequent events.

And then came President Xi Jianping. He is one leader who loves football.

When you have a leader who has a particular interest in something, you can expect things to happen. Xi has made no secret of his love for the game and one of his ambitions is that China host the World Cup.

In October last year, Xi visited the City Football Academy in Manchester.

It was reported that China's USD400mil (RM1.7bil) stake in Premier League giants Manchester City underlined the nation's soaring ambitions in football and how its investors are seeking profits as well as prestige, analysts said.

China has been flexing its considerable financial muscle by encouraging companies to sponsor clubs and their academies.

We have seen many stellar names playing in the league. Nicolas Anelka (Shanghai Shenhua), Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Alberto Gilardino (Guangzhou Evergrande), Alessandro Diamanti (Guangzhou Evergrande) and Carsten Jancker (Shanghai Shenhua) were some of the names that joined clubs in the league.

This year though, things have certainly changed. The Chinese Super League has spent about GBP106mil (about RM625mil) on transfers.

They have brought in former Premier League stars such as Chelsea’s Ramires (Jiangsu Suning) and Arsenal’s Gervinho (Hebei China Fortune).

These two players can still make an impact in the top leagues but the riches of the league seems to have affected their decision.

If that is not enough, Fredy Guarin, a player who has the potential to become the best box-to-box midfielder in the world, left Inter Milan to join Shanghai Shenhua.

Then we have world class players like Demba Ba (Shanghai Shenhua), Asamoah Gyan (Shanghai SIPG), Tim Cahill (Shanghai SIPG), Dario Conca (Shanghai SIPG) and Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande) who play in China.

It raises the profile of the country and league but does it help the progress of the country's football.

It is too early to say. Things do not seem to work China's way. They are currently third in Group C of the World Cup qualifying rounds.

The clubs hope that the big players would inspire the Chinese to do better. So far, it looks like the coaches are relying on the import players to achieve success.

Apart from importing top notch players, the Chinese Football Association should come out with a blueprint and encourage clubs to find a way to ensure long term success in football.

Instead of going big on promoting players, they should also have invested on youth development.

But then, countries have their plans. Maybe China feels that money is one way to boost their football.

As analyst, I guess we should give them time and see if it works out. Maybe that is the Feng Shui that they hoped for.

I am sure fans in China will enjoy the league but will they be able to see their national team in another World Cup? Only time will tell.

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