Guangzhou Evergrande claimed the Chinese Super League title on Sunday for the seventh consecutive year with two games remaining in the current season.
A 5-1 home victory over struggling Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng left the visitors in seventh position, despite it being their fourth defeat in six games. Meanwhile, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team marched into a nine-point lead at the top as second-place Shanghai SIPG were beaten at home by 6th placed Guangzhou R&F two goals to one.
Having been knocked out of the Chinese FA Cup in the semi-finals by Shanghai SIPG before being beaten by the same team in the quarter-final stage of the Asian Champions League, Evergrande now only have next season to focus on.
Andy Dickinson introduces the Chinese Super League and asks what is next for Chinese football?
The Domestic Game
The Chinese Super League was founded as recently as 2004 and, in the time since its arrival, has slowly grown in stature and influence with a number of high-profile players being lured there through the promise of high wages. Given that the Chinese Premier Xi Jinping sees football as integral to his plans to integrate China into European markets, investment in the sport has ballooned recently as magnates around the country seek to curry favour with their leader.
In a bid to raise the profile of the sport in his country, Xi has introduced a target for the national team to win the World Cup by 2050 – a perhaps unrealistic goal for a country that was beaten at home by Syria almost exactly a year ago.
As a result of this desire to increase the footballing cachet of his nation, Xi has imposed a cap on the number of foreign players permitted by teams in China now exists, a major reason why mooted deals for the likes of Wayne Rooney and Diego Costa recently fell by the wayside. Yet despite a massive population from which to pool future players from, there’s still a large cultural shift towards football required if this potential is to be realised.
There are many initiatives in place to aid the progress and development of the sport within the country. One such scheme is the “Rising Stars” initiative by real estate giants Wanda who own a 10% share of Atlético Madrid.
Set up in 2011, they sent 180 promising youth players to Spain in an attempt to enhance their football training and education. There are also many boarding schools being set up inside the country to develop players, with a massive investment being made in recent years to provide facilities and academies which can produce the stars of tomorrow.
However, a problem remains at the grass-roots level of the sport. Without the masses taking to the local parks and playgrounds across the country, there will be less rough diamonds to be uncovered than the hotbeds of football such as South America. At the beginning of a time which promises great change, it remains hard to predict exactly how this will play out though.
The Wider Picture
The footballing landscape in China has continually evolved in recent years as clubs look for ways in which to meet the challenge laid down by president Xi Jinping. As it stands, overseas investment is one of the main focal points for the Chinese government to achieve their goal with the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative the driving force behind this.
With the recent legislation change which has seen the government now impose a 100% tax on foreign player signings has scuppered any plans to improve the Chinese Super League through transfers for the most part. But with many clubs having implemented these high risk investments in foreign players in the last decade, there is a concern that many of the clubs in the Chinese top division are failing to meet their player wage payments and a financial restructuring is currently becoming a main topic of conversation.
In light of this, an increasing number of Chinese investors are looking to invest in foreign clubs in the top European leagues. This shift is not without its own problems though. For example, retail giant Suning, who recently bought Inter Milan, and Guo Guangchang, the owner of Wolverhampton Wanderers, have recently fallen into the cross-hairs for the way in which they’ve been acting financially, with anti-corruption drives determined to straighten out the sport from the inside out.
This has led to Liverpool and Newcastle now looking increasingly unlikely to be taken over by a Chinese consortium.
Looking to Next Season
Last Week, Evergrande’s coach Luiz Felipe Scolari confirmed speculation that he will step down as manager after three years at the helm of China’s most successful team. His contract is due to expire at the end of this current campaign although, having received a three-match touchline ban to close out the season, he’s now sat in the Guangzhou dug-out for the final time already.
Scolari’s spell at Guangzhou has gone some way to restoring his reputation which faded during the last nine years following unsuccessful terms at Chelsea and in South America. Recently, he stated that a move to either Europe or elsewhere in Asia rather than South America is his preferred destination as he now looks for a new challenge.
Marcello Lippi was due to take over the reins at the club in China’s third biggest city for a second time following his triumphant tenure between 2012-2014. This period saw the club dominate with three league titles, a CFA Cup and an Asian Champion League title.
Lippi has subsequently been appointed as manager of the Chinese National team, however, with his pre-contract agreement at Evergrande being annulled by mutual consent. This has left Carlo Ancelotti and to a lesser extent, Thomas Tuchel being linked with the vacant position.
With huge ambitions and a determination to fulfil them, then, Chinese football certainly remains something to keep a close eye on in the future.
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