In the space of a couple of weeks in December, Carlos Tevez and Oscar made headlines in the footballing world for moving to the Chinese Super League for astronomical amounts of money, the likes in which we have never seen before.
Oscar, a footballer who is in the prime of his career at the age of 25 years old, took the decision to leave current Premier League leaders Chelsea and move to Shanghai SIPG for £60m – a record fee paid for by a Chinese club… for now. He is also reportedly going to be earning in excess of £400,000 per week, making him the second highest paid player in world football, behind Carlos Tevez.
Tevez, a former Manchester City, Manchester United and Juventus striker, agreed a deal to leave his boyhood club Boca Juniors and join Shanghai Shenhua in December. Although the fee paid for Tevez was little to nothing, Tevez has become the highest paid footballer in World football, with a weekly wage of roughly £615,000 a week eclipsing Messi and Ronaldo’s earnings. The numbers are eye watering – when breaking down his new weekly wage, it works out to be roughly £88,000 a day, or £3,600 an hour if you break it down even further. It was a deal which shocked the footballing world and has now set the precedent for more and more players to move over to Asia to boost their bank balances.
Players such as Alex Teixeira, who famously turned down Liverpool in favour of a much higher salary offered by Chinese club Jiangsu Suning, Demba Ba, Didier Drogba, Hulk and Ramires have also moved to China in the past 5 years on huge wages and the number of players at European clubs moving to Asia looks set to increase in the next few transfer windows, with Zenit and Belgium midfielder Axel Witsel being the latest to move, signing an £18m a year deal with Tianjin Quanjian. Witsel, an established and well known player across Europe, turned down Italian giants Juventus in order to move to China, stating the offer was a “crucial one for his family”. Whatever view you take on the recent signings, there is no doubt that China is now a very glamorous and money spinning option for footballers who would’ve never previously considered playing in the Far East.
But why has this started to happen? What is the reason for the Chinese Super League’s attempt to sign Europe’s elite and will it work?
The main driving force behind the recent investment in Chinese football is the Chinese president himself, Xi Jinping. President Xi has set out a 10 year plan for the countries footballing structure and wants to double the size of the Chinese sports economy to more than £600bn, based on state and private investment in football. Included in this investment is the development of home grown Chinese talent – he wants the clubs and academies in the country to produce 100,000 players by 2020 – to help achieve these numbers, there will be new “football schools” and pitches built across the country, making the game accessible to everyone.
President Xi is determined to turn the country in to a superpower of the Footballing world. Although China currently sit 83rd in the rankings and have only ever qualified for the FIFA World Cup once in their entire history, the appointment of Italian world cup winner Marcello Lippi as the countries head coach was considered a huge coup and will undoubtedly bring a level of discipline and class to the setup which should see them shoot up the rankings in the next few years.
The huge money which is being offered to European and South American footballers are possible because Chinese Super League teams are being bankrolled by massive corporate investment. Clubs such as Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua, Jiangsu Junin and Guangzhou Evergrande have been the biggest spenders and have shown that they are not afraid to pay whatever it takes to sign the best players possible.
China has also pushed hard to raise its football profile abroad – President Xi was seen at Manchester City’s new academy last year shortly and Premier League clubs such as West Brom and Aston Villa have been subject of Chinese takeovers in the past 6 months or so. There is a belief within the country that the recent commercial success of the Premier League football model is what they would like the Chinese Super League to become in the 5 years or so and the investment being made within England is clear evidence of this.
It’s not just players who are making big money moves over to China, either. Manuel Pellegrini, Andre Villas-Boas and Gustavo Poyet, all of which have significant experience of coaching in the Premier League and Europe in general, have signed multi million pound deals to coach some of China’s biggest clubs. Villas-Boas’ appointment as head coach of Shanghai SIPG in particular was a deal which made a lot of people sit up and take notice of the development of the country, with the Portugese tactician signing an £11m a year deal, making him one of the highest paid coaches in the world.
With attendances within the Chinese Super League growing steadily and a £935m TV deal with China Media Capital recently being signed, all of the signs coming out of the country suggest that the recent heavy investment in players, management and the infrastructure should cause real concern amongst the elite in Europe that the Chinese are here to stay and are serious about transforming the country into a global player within Football for many years to come.
Sit tight, January is going to be very, very interesting.