A Bittersweet Year For Chinese Soccer
The year 2015 had a bittersweet taste of the Chinese soccer, but the positive strength, mainly from the management and investment, apparently increased to give hope for a bright future.
HIGH LOW WALK
Under the rein of Frenchman Alain Perrin, who took charge in March 2014, the Chinese men’s national team underwent a 10-game unbeaten run and present a brilliant new-year gift to fans in the Asian Cup earlier this year.
China won all the three group matches, beating Saudi Arabia 1-0, Uzbekistan 2-1, DPR Korea 2-1, which was the best result at group stage in its tours of the tournament.
Although China was knocked out by host Australia 2-0 in the quarterfinals, Chinese fans gave the team thumbs-up.
However, the team performed poorly in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Zone qualifying tournament later. In a relatively easy group with Qatar, China’s Hong Kong, the Maldives and Bhutan, China suffered a 1-0 loss to Qatar on road and was held 0-0 away and home by Hong Kong, already conceding the top position to Qatar which can directly qualify for the next stage. And the chance of advancing as one of the four best runners-up from eight groups is dim.
On the contrary, the women’s national team, which did not qualify for the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 London Olympics, bounced from the bottom and kept the momentum through the year 2015.
In the World Cup finals in Canada, China not only survived the group stage, but also roared past Cameroon 1-0 in the round of 16 and got a top-eight finish in the end after losing to the champions United States 1-0 in the quarters.
Currently directed by former French women’s national team coach Bruno Bini, China’s “steel roses” stunned the United States 1-0 in a friendly in New Orleans on Dec. 16, ending the latter’s 104 unbeaten run on home soil since 2004.
The Overall Plan of Chinese Soccer Reform and Development was issued in March by China’s central reform group led by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The reform, which aims to revive the Chinese soccer, covers almost every aspect of the sport, including the management system, professional clubs and leagues, the national teams and grassroots soccer.
In August, the separation of the Chinese Football Association (CFA) from the General Administration of Sports was also a historical step, which aims to give the CFA full rights of management, including financial, personnel system and international communications.
The number of primary schools and high schools which adopt football as part of their physical education program has surged from 5,000 to 8,000 in less than a year, said CFA President Cai Zhenhua this month.
“In 2020, the number will increase to 20,000,” said the plan, which aims to use soccer as an education tool not only to enlarge the soccer population but also improve the overall health quality of students.
PROFESSIONAL LEAGUE PROSPERING
The Chinese soccer, the CFA Super League (CSL) in particular, has absorbed huge investment since October 2014 when the State Council announced a guideline, named Opinions on Accelerating the Development of Sports Industry and Promoting Sports Consumption.
The guideline not only welcomed private investment but also mapped out details: the government-identified high-tech sports companies will have their corporate income tax reduced from 25 percent to 15 percent and the identified companies engaging cultural and sports activities will have their operation tax reduced to 3 percent.
Chinese billionaires responded with quick actions and their hands were put firstly to football.
Ma Yun, the owner of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has paid 1.2 billion yuan (about 192 million U.S. dollars) for 50 percent stake in Guangzhou Evergrande, the five-time CSL champion and two-time AFC Champions League winner.
In April, Chinese media group Ti’ao Power acquired the copyrights of the Chinese national football teams at the price of 70 million yuan (about 11 million dollars) a year.
But the most thrilling story came in September when Ti’ao Power won the bid for the producing and broadcasting rights of the CSL games for the next five seasons at a price of 8 billion yuan (about 1.25 billion dollars). In 2013, the CSL earned only 370 million yuan (about 60 million dollars) from sales of broadcasting rights and sponsorship.
As all CSL teams benefit from the huge investment, Guangzhou Evergrande has signed up Brazil star coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Shandong Luneng, another CSL giant, acquired another former Brazilian national team coach Mano Menezes. A group of high-level foreign footballers, mainly from Brazil, have been lured to the CSL as well.
Guangzhou Evergrande, the most successful Chinese club in recent years, clinched their fifth CSL title since 2011 and stepped on the AFC Champions League top podium for the second time this year.
Furthermore, they rallied to beat Club America of Mexico 2-1 in the quarterfinal of the 2015 Club World Cup in Japan before lost 3-0 to Barcelona in the semis.
Aside from the joy that Guangzhou Evergrande brought to the fans, the CSL remains the top in Asia in match attendance which reached a new high of 22,200 in 2015.