With Oscar the latest Premier League player to escape to China in a potential £52m deal making him one of the highest-paid stars in the world, following on from Ramires’ move almost a year ago, Antonio Conte has warned of the “danger” of Chinese investment for major European sides. But should we fear the economic strength in Asia, or is it a short-term fad?
The Chinese government has made it clear that sport is something they want to invest in for the country, with football very much at the forefront. By 2050, China wants to have hosted and won the World Cup, and have a sports industry to rival the United States of America. Politics is driving the change with the government heavily involved, and money is not an issue.
Having said that, China is a long way behind in football terms – the national team are ranked 83rd in the world at the moment and are four points behind Qatar in their World Cup 2018 qualifying group. There is a long way to go before that position in world football changes dramatically.
For the Premier League, the issue is not about the Chinese national team, but the potential for Chinese club sides to take the best players – Oscar and Ramires will have cost in excess of £100 million combined, which is plainly too much to turn down, even in the current inflated market.
Ray Wilkins suggested that if Arsenal were to receive an offer of £80m for Alexis Sanchez, one of the outstanding players not just in the Premier League, but in the world at the moment, then they would be unable to turn it down.
Players like Ramires, Oscar and others such as Alex Teixeira, who cost £38m last winter when Liverpool and others were interested, are all in their prime. This is not a case of China becoming a retirement home like Major League Soccer – they are attracting some of the most sought-after players in the world.
Even if Sanchez ultimately chooses not to leave Arsenal for China, his agent can still use the rumoured £400,000-a-week contract offer from Manuel Pellegrini’s Hebei China Fortune to his advantage. Sanchez will probably end up with a larger contract from Arsenal because of the interest from Asia, proving there are indirect impacts as well.
There are two ways of looking at the Chinese investment in football: 1) see it as a good thing, or 2) see it as a threat. Which side of the argument you fall on at the moment perhaps is determined by who you support.
China taking a couple of players that did not quite get into Chelsea’s first XI every week in exchange for a nine-figure sum means the Blues can reinvest in other players – a clear positive for them, if not everyone else. But what if China begin to take more players – Eden Hazard or Diego Costa, for example?
The threat that China will eventually begin to take more established players away from Europe’s top leagues is very real. If managers like Manuel Pellegrini and Marcelo Lippi are attracted to go there, as well as younger ones such as Andre Villas-Boas, then soon players of similar standing will follow. Money talks – and the more established players that leave for China, the more will be encouraged to follow suit, especially when the financial incentives are so great.
Whilst the threat might not be immediate, it will not be long before it transpires China has more power. You only have to look at the impact of Manchester City’s money to see what it can do – if all of China’s teams begin to spend on the same level, it is simply only a matter of time before better players are tempted to go there, and the quality will quickly improve.
Chinese investors have long been rumoured to be interested in Premier League teams – most recently Liverpool, but also others – whilst the record TV deal agreed in November for Premier League matches to be shown in the country shows the ever-growing interest in the sport.
With this amount of investment and interest in sport, coupled with the political support, it surely is only a matter of time before Chinese football begins to catch up. The early signs are that China is in it for the long haul – this is a long-term project that they seem committed to.
There is no need to fear China’s power right now, but the Premier League will need to adapt in future as a new powerhouse joins the footballing elite. In 20 years’ time, the landscape of football could be very different.
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