Not so long ago, less than a decade ago, Chinese football was given ample space in the media around the world, including Brazil.
While clubs spend billions on internationally renowned coaches and players, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is often seen playing in stadiums at home and abroad.
It’s all part of a plan, launched in early 2016 and outlined by politicians, to create a football culture and make the world’s most populous country a “soccer superpower” by 2050.
“Besides contributing to China’s economic development, football has been seen as a major sports industry that can add wealth to the country,” said Emmanuel Wright, an associate researcher at Tongji University’s International University Football Center. University, in Shanghai.
As China has traditionally been more successful in women’s football, Xi has particular ambitions for men’s football: to qualify for the World Cup, host the tournament and win the title.
Those tasks have not been easy for a country that played just one tournament in 2002 and was outside the top 70 in FIFA’s rankings when plans were announced — today, it ranks 81st. The government’s solution is to invest heavily.
To back their aim, Chinese state-owned conglomerates, construction companies and developers, bloated by a property boom, have flooded the country’s top league with cash, making the Chinese Super League (CSL) rival Europe’s biggest leagues in terms of revenue. invest.
At the peak of the 2015/16 season, player transfers cost US$451 million (approximately R$2.3 billion at the time), making it one of the five highest-investing leagues in the world.
The Chinese dream seems to have no end. World champion coaches such as Scolari and Lippi, and players such as Lavezzi, Hulk, Augusto and Paulinho are all attracted by huge salaries.
It rises fast and falls fast. Poor financial decisions, corruption cases across the sport and a financial crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic have severely shaken the fabric of football in the country over the past three years.
Brazilian football has also felt the impact of China’s withdrawal from the transfer market. “For a while, Brazilian clubs sold players to the Chinese at prices similar to those negotiated with European clubs, and this has only recently happened,” said Eduardo Carlezzo, who has represented players in negotiations with the Chinese.
This weekend, due to the exclusion of Kunshan FC and Guangzhou City, the 2023 Chinese Super League will start with 16 teams, two fewer than last season. The first resigned due to financial situation, and the second was not approved at the admission stage for the same reason.
These two cases are no exception. In 2021, Jiangsu accidentally fell into a financial crisis due to its major shareholder Suning, and ended its activities shortly after winning the Super League.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only accelerated a process that was already underway, as there is no sustainable growth in the Chinese league.
“In order to attract big-name players to a league that doesn’t have much competition, clubs offer very high salaries. Above revenue-generating capacity. There are incentives from the government and companies, but the accounts are not closed,” sporting director Pedro Daniel said in a statement. Consulting firm Ernst & Young.
With the pandemic, income sources have become even more scarce.The tournament has been organized in a “biosecurity” bubble for the past three years due to the Chinese government’s “zero Covid” policy, which take the fans out of the stadium And limit the athlete’s interaction with family members. As a result, many foreigners left the country.
In addition, changes to the league’s financial rules, such as penalties for using foreign players that double their costs, have meant big-money signings have effectively stopped. There are few stars, and it is more difficult for local athletes to improve their technical level.
At the height of the crisis, not even the biggest clubs were spared. In 2021, after the collapse of the Evergrande Group triggered the worst real estate market crisis in domestic history, Guangzhou Evergrande was unable to pay the players’ salaries in full. Relegation to Division B in 2022.
The club’s decline and failure to raise standards has undermined Xi Jinping’s goal of getting his country back to the World Cup. The absence of Qatar is China’s fifth consecutive appearance on football’s biggest stage.
The Chinese national team has experimented with a form of artificial evolution, looking for players born and bred abroad. The accelerated naturalization has sparked controversy, such as the granting of citizenship to five Brazilians without any Chinese ancestry.
They got new names: Fernando changed to Fernando, Aloisio changed to Luo Guofu, Elkeson changed to Exon, Ricardo Goulart changed to Goulart, Alan Cava Slightly renamed Alan. However, during the pandemic, they left the country and the invitation.
However, the Chinese government’s plans have not been put on hold. According to researcher Emmanuel Wright, Xi is a firm believer in the geopolitical importance of football and will continue to seek solutions to achieve his goals.
“Football is a bridge, it builds connections, connections, which builds commerce,” said Reiter, author of “China, Football and Development: Socialism and Soft Power.”
For him, the best way for Asian countries to meet their sporting needs is to seek exchanges with partners such as Brazil. “We have the expertise to develop athletes and there is a huge learning need in China.”