EDITORIAL: Can China buy its way to football greatness?
By Editorial Desk
07 January 2017

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - China's historic spending spree stuns the world.

Jaws in the football world are dropping, even those of Spanish big spenders. What’s happening in China? The massive amount of money being spent on foreign football imports is unlike anything anybody has ever seen. Global stars have been bought at unbelievable prices and given incredible salaries; a well-known English Premier League referee has been targeted; and even a cheeky 250-million-pound-plus bid has been floated for one of the planet’s best players, Cristiano Ronaldo. All these moves raise one tantalising question: Can China buy its way to 
football success?

China’s sporting excellence has always been based on super-tough training, out-of-this-world discipline, and the fact that China’s enormous population supports a unique philosophy. The purchases of Brazilian international midfielder Oscar, Argentinian star Carlos Tevez and Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas, among other big football names, have strongly demonstrated that China is making an exception when it comes to the world’s most popular sport. The country is throwing money at names that can inspire or boost the game’s popularity.

Tevez will reportedly be paid roughly equivalent to Bt27 million per week at Chinese club Shanghai Shinhua, after being bought from Boca Junior at an undisclosed amount believed to be in the region of Bt3.12 billion. The salary, 20 times higher than his latest weekly earnings in Argentina, will make the 32-year-old the highest-paid footballer in the world. Oscar is joining the Chinese Super League at more or less the same price, though with a lower salary. The manager of Oscar’s former club, Chelsea, 
obviously cringed when he said: “The Chinese market is a danger to all.”

Ronaldo is unlikely to leave Real Madrid, but that doesn’t prevent reports that someone in China is willing to pay the Spanish club around Bt10.5 billion if he decided otherwise. Even referee Mark Clattenburg is reportedly sought after by China. 

One reason for the “crazy” spending spree is that no matter what China has done, the country has not been able to make a mark in football. The Chinese are ranked 83rd in the world, just one point ahead Faroe Islands, virtually among the minnows of the game. China’s men’s national team has qualified for only one World Cup to date, in 2002, and could not score a single goal in that tournament, losing all three games.
Oscar is only 25. His age tells the big difference between the intention of the popularity-seeking US market, where retiring footballers have gone for final big payouts, and China’s aspirations. He is supposed to inspire Chinese kids and make the Chinese Super League stronger, enabling it to serve as a foundation for football development. Tevez, though he is over 30, is anything but a has-been. 

To make China’s football great has also become a political agenda. President Xi Jinping is a big football fan who believes that his country’s world rankings for both men and women should be a lot higher. What has been viewed by the rest of the world as “insane” spending is, therefore, apparently not so in the eyes of the Chinese government.

This year, related Chinese official organisations, namely the National Development and Reform Commission, the Chinese Football Association, the sports bureau and the Education Ministry agreed on an ambitious plan to make China one of the world’s most powerful football nations by 2050. 

One of the first steps is to develop 50 million footballers by 2020, the majority of whom are schoolchildren. 

It remains to be seen whether spending money is the answer. 
In the end, it may yet be a mixture of the old philosophy and the money-can-buy-success concept. 

What’s happening to China’s football reflects a bigger national picture, that of a country caught between proven conventional wisdom and what its massive financial capacity can bring about.

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