China has set its sights on becoming a contender in the world of soccer, and that goal could upend the sport in traditional soccer playing regions, such as Latin America and Europe, according to Colombia’s online news magazine Semana.
“China has the economic capacity and ambition to build the strongest league on the planet. That growth will change the geopolitics of the game,” Semana said in an article published earlier this week.
The article was sparked by the recent migration eastward of talented footballers who ditched their well-known European clubs to sign juicy contracts with Chinese teams. Among them are Colombian players Freddy Guarin, formerly of Inter Milan, Jackson Martinez (Atletico de Madrid), and Freddy Montero (Sporting, Lisbon).
The 42 million euros that Guangzhou Evergrande paid Atletico for Martinez “is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Semana, adding “China’s Super League spent 267.82 million euros, more than any other league in the world, to hire such players as Jackson Martinez, Fredy Guarin, Ramires, Gervinho, Alex Teixeira or Demba Ba.”
China’s Super League outspent England’s Premier League, which doled out some 247.29 million euros on players, noted Semana, “but even more surprising is that China’s second division League One came in fourth place in the expenditure ranking, with 49.1 million euros.”
While China is a newcomer to football, deciding only some 15 years ago to seriously take up the sport, its significant purchasing power places it on the same footing as most of the major leagues, in terms of attracting talent, and that’s what worries the industry, said Semana.
“The sudden appearance of the Chinese dragon in the geopolitics of football is making Europe’s most important clubs unhappy,” said Semana, not just because China can buy their best players, but also because they do, sometimes without consulting the team.
The Chinese soccer league wants to possess the top talent from the world. But China still has a long way to go, especially in developing a fan base, which is key to strengthening the sport, but “the Chinese league is evolving by leaps and bounds,” doubling stadium ticket sales in some 10 years, said Semana.