Football clubs in the Chinese Super League were very busy during the transfer window in January. They were involved in four of the 10 biggest transfers, including the most expensive move by Alex Teixeira from the Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning for €50 million (HK$422 million).
Some familiar names, such as Chelsea’s Ramires and former Arsenal and Roma winger Gervinho, were also snapped up – by Jiangsu Suning and Heibei China Fortune, respectively.
Thanks to President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” and his ambitions to turn China into a global football superpower by hosting and winning the World Cup, companies are pouring millions of dollars into mainland clubs, as they build academies or buy quality players to help boost China’s abysmal footballing standards.
But I think the country is heading in the wrong direction. Instead of nurturing talents like Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the future, the current system will only make the Chinese national football team a laughing stock in the world of football.
Compared to neighbouring Asian superpowers such as Japan and South Korea, China lacks high-quality staff, such as managers, coaches or even physios, to train the next generation of players.
Also, academies give branding a higher priority than player quality. For example, a player who has the ability to pass the ball like Xavi but is not so good-looking will have to make way for a less-talented, but “handsome star”.
Yes, boasting a large number of superstars can help the Chinese Super League attract international attention, but it doesn’t guarantee success. This has happened at clubs in Europe and America. For example, English Premier League team Manchester City, boasting world-class players like Argentine striker Sergio Aguero and English goalkeeper Joe Hart, have failed to win a European Cup; New York City FC finished bottom of the US Major League Soccer table last season even after signing cult heroes like Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo.
If Xi wants China to win a World Cup trophy, he should have replaced the top brass of the Chinese Football Association. For the past three decades, the association has been led by bureaucrats instead of former professional football players.
Unlike party secretaries, former players have the commitment and knowledge to help raise the mainland’s footballing standards. They will also be open to suggestions to revamp the whole system, and take the country to a more respectable position in the Fifa rankings. If that happens, winning the World Cup may not be a pipe dream, after all.