The likes of Axel Witsel, Carlos Tevez, Hulk, and Oscar are flying to ply their trade in the Middle Kingdom. In the last few years, many big European clubs’ stars have moved to China. To most of the followers of the game, the reason seems to be crystal clear, more money. Though that is the most plausible reason in most of the cases, there is more to it. Chinese President Xi Jinping has envisioned China to be a global superpower in football by the year 2050. Ever since the Chinese Government has pumped in millions into the sports sector to improve the infrastructure. Despite the multi-millions worth of transfers, Chinese League isn’t what many may think. It is far from domination in Asia let alone globally.
The Chinese sentiment:
One of the primary assets in the development of any sports is the fan support. Fortunately enough for the promoters of the game, Chinese football receives fan support in plenty. Just a decade back, Chinese football was marred by a high level of corruption in the game. There were multiple cases of match fixing, misuse of funds meant for developing the youth. Yet, the Chinese are known to be very nationalistic. Once the word of their President reached them, they have been flooding the stadiums week in and week out. These Chinese has always had a dynastic approach to things. Even with football, they seek to establish a structure where the Chinese would lead for years to come. Owing to the love for the game and country, the Chinese sentiment has given all the positive signs to China’s project 2050.
Where do the Chinese players lack?
The Chinese are known to be one of the shrewdest participants, irrespective of the sport. Looking at the footballing aspect of it, the Chinese gameplay often reeks of lack of tactical awareness, obsolete approaches. The primary reason why the Chinese have failed at an international stage is because they aren’t used to the European methods of playing. If we look at countries in South America and Europe, both have players playing in each other’s leagues. That, in turn, prepares the players, enabling them to be updated with the latest tactics and techniques. The scope of Chinese players is confined to their own country, therefore leaving them under prepared on an international stage.
Splashing on foreign players: Short term favoured over long-term?
To solve their core problem of being unused to European ways, the Chinese clubs have opted for a short cut to success. They have followed a model similar to the EPL, spending millions on star players. It is understandable, to get the Chinese acquainted with these players to improve their skill-set. However, these players barely care about the Chinese vision of the development of football. By making money the primary aspect of their transfers, the clubs have failed to instill in these new signings the idea of reforming the overall Chinese gameplay. Though the League does have a restriction of maximum 4 foreigners per game(one from Asia), most of these are star forwards. In such a scenario, the domestic players seldom get a chance to prove their attacking worth. Instead of integrating European methods at their academy levels, the clubs are going for the big shots.
The business aspect of the game is given a higher preference over the noble cause which the President vouched for. By paying millions of dollars in salaries, the Chinese League is now turning out to be a destination for star players at the end of their careers. Therefore, the long-term project of developing the youth is sacrificed in their bid to get the stars.
Progress till now:
Despite landing the star players and investing in the game, the CSL still remains heavily uncompetitive. There are games where the big clubs beat the small ones 11-0, 7-0 etc. The entire point of the League has become a show of money and power. The whole idea of playing as a team has taken a hit, with individual skills being relied upon.
On the other hand, the game has seen heavy progress in terms of investments from the private sector. There have been lucrative TV deals signed. With the presence of tycoons like Jack Ma, the President can bank upon the one country, one ambition policy.
Despite all the flaws in their approach, the Chinese have a strong edge when it comes to nationalism. Therefore, with the advent of methods to integrate football into the curriculum and other features, China is building a strong base in the least. Only time can tell how far they will go in their quest for international glory.