With China looking to capitalize on its national consumerism, Chinese investors are beginning to dump money into none other than the worlds greatest competition; football (not the american kind). Xi Jinping aims to raise the bar in terms of economic standards on the pitch saying that his dream for Chinese soccer is to make its teams “among the world’s best”. Here lies the barriers to that outcome. Of China’s 1.386 billion people, a majority live in cities, renowned for their extremely dense populations. For this reason, space to manufacture soccer fields and stadiums is not readily available in the areas where it would reach the most people. While this reality would drive aspirations towards sparsely populated regions, those regions of rural china are predominantly inhabited by small-scale agriculture. China’s national investment is historic for benefiting provinces and municipalities, meaning extreme spending in rural areas would go against China’s systematic hierarchy that strictly funds large, and coastal cities. Mr. Xi’s plan might have a harder time materializing than anticipated, especially with the global backlash his statements received from some of footballs major organizations and players.
At the height of any footballers career, it’s desirable at the very least to be competing at the highest level, which has always been considered Europe’s top 5 leagues; La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and the Premier League. Within these leagues, historically comes the promise of a higher wage than other domestic leagues, But Xi’s plan to invest in the Chinese sporting economy could begin to poach top athletes from these leagues with the prospect of higher wages. On the topic of Chinese clubs outbidding European clubs, Manager of Premier Leagues arsenal, Arsene Wegner weighs in on the Chinese presence upon European football; “That’s the danger, that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe. You cannot compete with that.” China’s economic ascension is undeniable, and if players start picking payment over history, then the very structure of the modern game could be put in a completely new light.
Despite the barriers to achieve his goal by 2025 and the CSL (Chinese Super League) not being considered one of the top leagues, desolate stadiums are far from a reality in China. Similar to Portugal’s Liga Nos, which infamously boasts some of the proudest fans and packed arena’s, china has been seeing stadium attendance rise. The league observed an average 22,000 attendance record in 2017, projected to double by 2025, which has since seen a 17% increase in the last 2 years.
Carlos Tevez, Anderson Talisca, Oscar, Hulk, Carrasco, Fredy Guarin, Paulinho, Marek Hamsik, all spotlight players at their respective clubs have moved to the CSL. Renowned Netherlands star and one of Bayern Munich’s top stars in recent years, Arjen Robben contributes to the idea of competing in the CSL. by saying that moving to china in the prime of your career is a fatal, career ending mistake. He may be right, since the CSL has always been compared to the MLS in the sense that it represents a place for former football stars to finish out their career in style and for a pretty penny.
However Robben’s comment on the CSL isn’t totally fair. China isn’t trying to completely diversify its league, the process is really meant to promote Chinese players. On the pitch at all times can be no more than 3 non-Chinese nationals, or 4 if one of the 4 is affiliated with the Asian football association. All goalkeepers in the top flight must be Chinese, and all but two of the managerial staff must be Chinese (excluding the manager himself). These rules don’t exist in any other leagues. If the future of the worlds greatest competition is changing, will it migrate toward China, or will Xi Jinping’s economic plan to invest in football face to much adversity to see success.