Football is Coming Home

Football's Coming HomeLong before the English Football association established the first universally accepted rules at the Freemasons’ Tavern, London, in 1863, the Chinese – “a great bunch of lads” played cuju.

Cuju, an ancient competitive ball kicking game first practiced as a Chinese military activity in 300 BC, was hugely popular in Chinese society right up until the ‘Ming dynasty’ (1368-1644). The Ming Dynasty, no doubt governed by direct ancestors of our own Luke Ming Flanagan, brought an affiliation of corruption and brothels to the game. The tarnished reputation of cuju led to the game being outlawed, and in the present day extinct.

In recent times when we hear Chinese sport, we think of frantic table tennis players in the Olympics – crouching tiger hidden paddle -, but since 2012 the Chinese Super League has been slowly gathering momentum with high profile figures such as Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba and World Cup winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari being attracted by the astronomical wages on offer.

The 2017 Chinese Super League season begins in March after what has been a staggering active transfer window featuring plenty of obnoxious contract deals bringing the league into disrepute. From the outside looking in, it appears Chinese billionaires are playing fantasy football, but could the Chinese become the next footballing super power?

The top two highest earning footballers in the world now play in China for Shanghai based clubs, Carlos Tevez (Argentina) and Oscar (Brazil) boasting salaries of £615,000 and £400,000 per week respectively. Despite the trend of ridiculously overpriced wages, the Chinese Super League have reduced its foreign player quota to help curb spending and add incentive for Chinese home grown players. The number of foreign players allowed to appear at any given time for each club has been reduced from four to three. Maybe we should start taking Chinese football seriously!

Evergrande, with 48 soccer fields, is the largest soccer boarding school in the world.

With a population of almost 1.4 Billion people, there is bound to be a few Lionel Messi’s in the mix, right? President Xi Junping has built 20,000 football schools in a bid to reform Chinese grassroots football. By the sheer volume of talented Chinese players these schools will produce, China is likely to make serious waves at national and club level in years to come. The total amount spent by Super League clubs on oversees players in 2016 was $451.3 million which appears to only be the tip of the ice berg. As the overall standard of the league improves there will likely be a snowball effect with better players making the lucrative move to the East Asian league.

There may also be good news for the European leagues who will benefit from new Chinese TV revenue deals which are set to be introduced as soon as next season. Surprisingly the Bundesliga is currently the most popular European soccer league in China followed by the Premier League. Unfortunately, it seems money will continue to dictate the puppet show that is football, but here’s to hoping the sports golden years are still yet to come.

Familiar Players and Managers involved in the 2017 Chinese Super League:

Player/Manager Previous Clubs
Stephane Mbia Marseille, QPR, Sevilla
Christian Bassong Newcastle, Spurs, Norwich
Gervinho Arsenal, Roma
Obafemi Martins Inter Milan, Newcastle, Wolfsburg
John Obi Mikel Chelsea
Papiss Cisse Newcastle
Axel Witsel Benfica, Zenit St. Petersburg
Nikola Jelavic Everton, Hull, West Ham
Graziano Pelle Southampton
Ricardo Carvalho Real Madrid, Chelsea, Monaco
Burak Yilmaz Galatasaray
Ezequiel Lavezzi Napoli, PSG
Carlos Tevez West Ham, Man Utd, Man City, Juventus
Alex Teixeira Shaktar Donetsk
Hulk Porto, Zenit St. Petersburg
Oscar Chelsea
Ramires Chelsea
Alexandro Pato AC Milan
Jackson Martinez Porto, Athletico Madrid
Luiz Felipe Scolari Chelsea
Fabio Cannavaro Real Madrid
Andre Villa Boas Porto, Chelsea, Spurs
Manuel Pellegrini Man City, Real Madrid
Felix Magath Bayern Munich, Schalke, Fulham
Gus Poyet Brighton, Sunderland

By Ciarán Cunningham,  – 01/03/2017