Ten years of boom in collapse, Chinese football in a spin

The impact of the global health crisis and China’s pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy, coupled with growing difficulties within the corporate sector that have funded many clubs in the country, have left Chinese football in turmoil.

The impact of the global health crisis and China’s pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy, coupled with growing difficulties within the corporate sector that have funded many clubs in the country, have left Chinese football in turmoil.

A decade after the splash of Chinese money made waves in the global football market, the once certainty that China would become a major player in the game is looking more and more like a long-odds bet.

The decision to forfeit rights to next year’s Asian Cup final, which was taken by China last weekend citing COVID-19 uncertainties, has left Chinese football facing an uncertain future.

Hosting the quadrennial Continental Championship in nine sparkling new arenas and a rebuilt stadium was meant to be a stepping stone towards realizing President Xi Jinping’s ambition to host the World Cup.

That dream now seems more distant than ever.

The crushing impact of the global health crisis and China’s pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy, coupled with growing difficulties within the corporate sector that have funded many clubs in the country, have left the game in turmoil.

“The brilliance has become detached from the Chinese football and sports ecosystem,” China Sports Insider’s Mark Dreyer told Reuters.

“Who would trust China with a World Cup bid given everything we’ve seen in the past two years since the pandemic?

“In terms of football, we basically saw the full boom and bust.”

The current climate is a far cry from the day 10 years ago on Tuesday when Guangzhou Evergrande unveiled World Cup winner Marcello Lippi as their new head coach on an annual salary of 10 million euros ($10.44 million). dollars).

A new era for Chinese football

The Italian’s arrival heralded a new era for Chinese football, fueled largely by money from ambitious property developers bent on making Xi’s dream come true.

Less than 18 months after his arrival, Lippi had steered Guangzhou to the Asian Champions League title. Two years later, another World Cup winner, Luiz Felipe Scolari, repeated the feat.

Aside from the still weak national team, Chinese football was flying high and the amount spent on players and coaches around the world increased as the Chinese Super League prospered.

Oscar swapped Chelsea for Shanghai on an estimated salary of just under half a million dollars a week in 2016, following in the footsteps of fellow Brazilian Hulk, who left St Petersburg for around $50 million. of dollars.

The country’s entrepreneurs, meanwhile, have flocked to Europe in a bid to import their expertise into China’s burgeoning soccer industry. Soon, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan and Inter Milan were under Chinese ownership.

The governing bodies are courted. FIFA has partnered with Wanda Sports and Alibaba, owned by Jack Ma, has signed up to sponsor the expanded Club World Cup when it is scheduled to relaunch in China in 2021.

A bid to host the World Cup in 2030 or 2034 was expected and the rights to the 2023 Asian Cup were secured at the Extraordinary Congress of the Asian Football Confederation in Paris in 2019.

Some changes were already in the air before the emergence of COVID-19 in late 2019, but the ensuing global pandemic brought the game down.

FEVER DREAM

The unextended 2021 Club World Cup has been offloaded to the United Arab Emirates and now the Asian Cup rights have been returned, leaving China’s hopes of hosting the World Cup looking a little more than a COVID-19 fever dream.

In club play, the decline was equally precipitous with Jiangsu FC, owned by Inter Milan owners Suning Group, which folded months after winning the 2020 Chinese Super League title.

Government pressure on heavily indebted developers has seen funding cut at many clubs, including Guangzhou, while the country’s pursuit of a zero-COVID strategy has turned the CSL into a shell of itself.

With significantly lower salaries and the bleak prospect of playing in biosecure bubbles without fans, few of the top players who once flocked to the league remain.

The CSL’s 19th season is set to kick off next month, but the exact start date is still uncertain.

“Xi Jinping is known to be a football fan, but Chinese football will be so far down his priority list right now,” said Dreyer, author of Sporting Superpower: An Insider’s View on China’s Quest to Be the Best.

“Before, he was sure he would live to see China put on a World Cup, but now I think it’s just 50-50.”

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