How will Chinese Investment change global football?
Ever since Chinese Prime Minister Xi Jinping visited Manchester City in October 2015 and CMC completed their £265m investment in the Eastlands club, the quantity and frequency of Chinese money heading into foreign footballing markets has exponentially accelerated. In the 2016 January transfer window, Jackson Martinez, Ramires, Gervinho and Alex Teixeira, players all in the primes of their career, have made the financially motivated step to the East.
To contextualize just how much money Chinese authorities are investing, the Super League paid out £116m on transfers in 2015, a 65% increase on 2014, which drawfs the Premier League’s 8% increase. This mass change seems to have all happened quite quickly, and it is worth asking why this has occurred in 2016 and not before.
The Financial Times has outlined the political side of things, explaining that it ‘comes amid an influx of money into the Chinese game, driven by tycoons seeking political favours’. Similarly, Mark Dreyer of Chinasportsinside.com blog summarised that ‘it’s all because of the influx of money’- as in, money from Chinese businessman looking to pledge investments in the sport. Expect these figures to swell as the need for attention continues; Chinese clubs know they cannot entice big European names with a global premier league platform to perform. Subsequently, finance, and finance alone, remains their only method of attracting stars, and European clubs will know there’s substance to back the swag if a Chinese club comes knocking for one of their players.
The catalyst of this has been a political movement as much as anything, and has coincided with the rise of Prime Minister Xi, who took office in March 2013. Xi’s desire is to help China qualify for the World Cup and create one of the best teams in the world. In a far-left political state, the will of the PM has much larger consequences than that of, say, David Cameron. Where Xi leads, state capitalism will follow.
Sky Sports have reported that China will now will embark on a 50 point plan which will establish thousands of soccer schools, and make the game ‘compulsory’ for youngsters. Regardless of who is signed, if a country of a population of 1.3bn is making its youth play football, the next generation of football stars will probably be Chinese. The likes of Ramires’ move aren’t really about improving the league in football terms, but more about creating a lasting and embedded fan culture. Once that culture is established, China’s international footballing potential will be unfathomably large.
The implications of this are broad. While comforted English people have little to fear because of the Premier League’s untouchable strength, other domestic top flights are more susceptible to being marginalised. Brazilian champions Corinthians have lost four leading players to the Super League this season, with Renato Augusto allegedly joining Beijing Guoan to be paid five times his original salary. Household names like Scolari (the manager), Robinho and Luiz Adriano have already made the move in years gone by. Leagues like the once championed Eredivisie, the MLS, the Russian Premier League, and (whisper it quietly) even Serie A, whose attendances continue to falter, all stand to lose out in the plight for eye-catching talent.
In the meantime, anticipate more of the same, with analysts anticipating that the Chinese sporting economy will double by 2025. Super agent Jorge Mendes is frequently seen in Beijing, signifying immediate links to the world’s best players. While Man City have seen investment, expect a full consortium for a Premier League club at some point in the future. The likely recipients will be a West Ham, Spurs or Newcastle who are all still owned by British businessmen. And lastly, a Chinese World Cup by 2030 is also on the cards, but only if the national team can improve on its recent stuttering form which has seen former Portsmouth manager Alain Perrain sacked. As time progresses, expect more of the same. Providing Prime Minister Xi remains in office and his sporting policies implemented, the next Messi or Ronaldo may well be Chinese.