Chinese Super League – “We need some more years”

One of the world’s most valuable players Cristiano Ronaldo was in the centre spotlight this January Transfer Window when an unnamed Chinese Super League club bid a huge £260 million for the Real Madrid star. But it does beg the question, are the established European leagues under threat from the rise of this Far East division? 

With likes of former Premier League players such as Gervinho, Asamoah Gyan and Demba Ba already lured in by the tasty six figure weekly salary, are we just seeing the start of what could be a revolution in the beautiful game?

The Chinese Super League was founded in 2004, where a mere 12 teams entered the inaugural season. The season however was full of controversy involving match fixing and gambling scandals.

Cameron Wilson, Founding Editor of Far East Media said: “When it started out in the 90’s (known as Jia-A) it was really really popular, the crowds were huge and people were really in to it. But then there was a lot of corruption and match fixing and eventually some of the games were really blatantly fixed. By the end of the 90’s and into the early 2000’s the game was messed up. Throughout the 2000’s it slowly got better.”

Mariaelena Perrone, a Freelance Consultant working for Outstanding Italia, has been working in China since 2014 on development projects between China and Europe, Perrone said “match fixing is nothing new”.

“They started in China with the big campaign against corruption, a campaign that (is) not only linked to football but to all the government bureaus and everything. This had a big impact on everything including business, including marketing”.

The scandals soon diminished and the league slowly but steadily grew and in 2012 the league had a total of 16 teams registered.

2011 however was much more significant than the growth of the league. Guangzhou Evergrande pumped a whole host of money into their club and started spending big amounts on players from outside of China in their prime. 2012 would also see Shanghai Shenhua make two massive signings, which would change the way the Chinese Super League would be looked at in the future.

“In 2011, everything changed when Guangzhou Evergrande threw a tonne of money into the club and bought some really good players who were way better than any other players in China. Darío Conca would be the example of the guy who kicked off the revolution of players coming to China in their prime” Said Wilson.

Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were the first two worldwide recognised names to take a punt on this relatively unheard of league at the time and they sparked a trend which would soon hit leagues across Europe.

The reason for the move for the former Chelsea strikers was obviously down to money, not to promote the league, something which the MLS, a league Drogba has also played in, did not do.

The MLS wanted more coverage and more recognition and getting the likes of David Beckham on board were crucial for the exposure of the league.

Moving back to the Premier League, some of the names stated in the article who have made the switch to China were key players at their former respective clubs, but money or pride in todays world will always produce the same answer, only a small majority of footballers will decline an offer like we’ve seen Ronaldo receive.

But if players not only continue to move away from the Premier League, but the Ligue 1, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga as well it poses a real problem for the next decade of upcoming talent.

China’s power is clear, they will pay any sum for virtually any player they want. Is it soon before we see the likes of the elite players such as Suarez, Pogba, and Ramos persuaded by the large sums of money?

“I don’t think they (the European Leagues) should see it as a threat, I think they should be more magnanimous and less hypocritical. People in China look up to the European Leagues, football fans look up to the European Leagues and see the quality of the play, the standard of players and this is a really big influence” said Wilson.

Perrone was quick to say that the Chinese Super League “needs some more years” to be on par with any of the European Leagues.

“The Chinese fanbase is linked more to the player than the club,” said Perrone.

The Chinese Super League certainly has some of the best players in the world currently, and with the league getting ever richer and bigger, who knows what could happen in the next 15 years of football.

See a timeline of all the events from the Chinese Super League here!



Jack Williams

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