Huge investment in the Chinese Super League has created a new power in world football. Big names are now constantly being brought to China on extraordinary wages. Is it possible that the CSL will challenge Europe’s top leagues?
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping has a desire to make the CSL one of the world’s top leagues. With backing from the president and rich businessmen looking to increase their wealth, the CSL is certainly capable of challenging the Premier League and other European Leagues. In 2015, the president launched a 50 point plan to transform Chinese football, and now it seems it is succeeding.
In the last January transfer window, the CSL outspent the Premier League for the first time. It also outspent Europe’s other top four leagues combined (Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1). Some of the world’s best players have opted to move to China over some of Europe’s top clubs- arguably because of the money on offer to them in China . The Premier League simply cannot compete with the wages that are offered in China. Here are some of China’s highest earners:
Alex Witsel, a Belgian international, had a choice to move to Serie A champions Juventus or Tianjin Quanjin, who have recently been promoted into China’s top flight. Surprisingly, Witsel made the move to China instead of Champions League contenders Juventus. The 28 year old explained his reasoning to the press: “it was a very difficult decision because on one hand there was a great team and a top club like Juventus, But on the other there was a crucial offer for my family that I couldn’t turn down”. Witsel, formerly of Zenit Saint Petersburg, is one of dozens of players who have now moved on from Europe’s top leagues to play in the CSL. Could others follow?
However, the long term sustainability of the CSL has been questioned by some. Can the Chinese clubs keep on spending this ridiculous amount of money on foreign players? The immediate future of the CSL is looking bright, with seemingly endless streams of money and a new broadcast deal for the league, players from all over the world will be attracted to China. Yet, this short term spending will not help the league grow in the future and may well stunt the progression of home grown players and the overall development of the league.
On the contrary, the Chinese Football Association have recognised this sustainability dilemma. The CFA have introduced new rules that only allow teams to have up to three foreign players and puts limits on irrational salaries. The Statement that was released acknowledges the dilemma: “In order to realise ‘The General Plan of Chinese Football Reform and Development’ and to benefit the overall development of Chinese football and Chinese local players, to enhance the quality of the national team and to keep the professional league on a healthy, stable and consistent track, the CFA has adjusted the regulations of the 2017 Chinese Super League and the China League”. The statement also outlined the need to regulate transfers and salaries, “The CFA will continue to release new rules and policies to regulate the irrational expense of the Chinese Super League and the China League, including the overpaying of domestic and international transfer fees and salaries in order to professionalise clubs’ operations and management”.
The CSL has the money and political backing to get itself going in the short term. But also good, positive plan for the future. So surely the Premier League and other top leagues should take notice of this emerging confederation.
Perhaps the Premier League should remember it’s actions over the past few decades also. In the 1980’s Italy’s Serie A was the most dominant league in the world, but then the Premier League came along with it’s lucrative broadcasting deals which massively increased the budgets of the Premier League clubs. The newly wealthy Premier League clubs attracted big names, and a few decades on the Premier League has overtaken all other European Leagues to become the most watched sports league, not just in Europe, but in the entire world. Could something similar happen with the Chinese Super League?
To most of us this seems unlikely. But the league is highly competitive, five teams were fighting relegation on the final match day of last season, and a lot of the players now in China have settled and have been successful. Take Demba Ba for example, who scored 20 goals last season before his horrific leg break, or Alex Teixeira (who rejected Liverpool for Jiangsu Suning) who had 11 goals and 8 assists last season. For the CSL to have long term success, the CSL’s star players will have to remain in China in order for China’s young prospects to play at a high level and progress. And currently, a lot of the league’s foreign players look settled and are playing well.
The Chinese Super League looks as if it has a plan, not just for the immediate future but for the long term also. If the 2008 Olympics are anything to go by, where China almost doubled the amount of athletes they sent to the Olympics in 2004, progression will happen quickly in China and China’s top flight may become a force to be reckoned with.
By Greg Kennedy