By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published February 27, 2017
Football’s fever, growth and development in China is unprecedented. China’s plan is to win the World Cup soon and the influx of huge sums of cash, world-class players and esteemed coaches into the CSL will accelerate this plan.China, better yet, the People’s Republic of China is the second largest country by land mass in the world and the most populous country standing at 1.38 billion residents. Often described as an emerging superpower, with its increased economic, military and international influence, China is on the cusp of becoming the leading figure of world trade and power in the 21st century. Notwithstanding, this influence and trade power has trickled over into the sports world, specifically into the world’s leading game, the game of football.
In recent months and years, China’s highest tier of professional football, the Chinese Super League (CSL), has materialised as a strong competitor to European leagues in signing professional footballers to enormous salaries and contracts. Despite the notion that a player’s ultimate goal is to win trophies and titles, nevertheless, players also want to be paid and paid handsomely. They recognise that with their relatively shortened careers they have to maximise on their ability to earn immensely at the top-flight level.
Speculation was rife in the past weeks of a big money move by Manchester United’s and England’s captain Wayne Rooney to the Chinese Super League. However, last Thursday, Rooney ended all speculation with a statement reiterating his commitment to Manchester United for at least this season.
“Despite the interest which has been shown from other clubs, for which I’m grateful, I want to end recent speculation and say that I am staying at Manchester United.
“I hope I will play a full part in helping the team in its fight for success on four fronts.
“It’s an exciting time at the club and I want to remain a part of it,” Rooney declared.
Currently, Manchester United is actively competing in three competitions: the English Premier League, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Europa League, and just yesterday they partook in the EFL Cup final against Southampton.
Statistically, this season, Rooney’s production has tapered off tremendously, with Manchester United’s new signings, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Paul Pogba, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, along with returning players Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, and Marcus Rashford, all scoring more goals than him. Before Sunday’s final, the 31-year-old had scored just five times in 18 starts and 29 total appearances this year. In comparison to Manchester United’s new point man, Ibrahimović, who has scored 24 times in 33 starts and 36 total appearances, Rooney is a shell of a forward.
The international players who have signed for any of the 16 teams in Chinese top-flight league are often considered players at the end of their careers, like 33-year-old Carlos Tevez and 38-year-old Ricardo Carvalho, and Rooney would have been no different. Nevertheless, convincing Rooney, Manchester United’s all-time leading goalscorer and captain of both Manchester United and England, to abscond the world’s most watched league, the EPL, to play in the Super League would have been a huge validation for the Chinese and a knock against Europe. It would have been a huge marketing tool and may still be at the end of this season since Rooney has made no commitments past this season via his statement on Thursday.
The Super League has several high profile managers among their ranks including 2002 World Cup winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, 2014 English Premier League winning manager and former Real Madrid boss Manuel Pelligrini, former Tottenham and Chelsea player Gus Poyet, 2011 UEFA Europa League winning manager André Villas-Boas, and 2006 FIFA World Player of the Year Fabio Cannavaro. In addition, the current national team coach and a former Super League team coach is the Italian Marcello Lippi, the first and one of only two coaches to win the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup. With this influx of world-class coaches into the Super League, prominent players and other coaches will continue to see China and the Super League as a viable option.
Breaking the stereotype, players with youth still on their side, like 25-year-old Brazilian Oscar, just recently left one of Europe’s big teams, Premier league-leading Chelsea for China. The money is just too good. Brazil, the country of football, has been one of the main exporters of talent to several countries across the world and China is no different. Currently, over 22 Brazilians are signed to the Super League teams including Paulinho, Oscar, Hulk and Ramires, who all played for Brazil – at home – in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Despite these high-profile imports over China’s great wall and into the Super League, teams are restricted to five foreign players per team and a maximum of four foreign players on the field in each game. Policies such as these intrinsically foster local player improvement and interestingly, we have seen similar policies in other leagues and sports across the world, notably cricket’s T20 leagues. The Indian Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League are two such examples, which we have seen their local players develop into world-beaters with exposure to world-class talent.
With China’s strong world economy, it is splashed with cash and several individuals think that China’s goal is to have the best football league in the world with the best players in the world participating. That may be the case in the near futurity. However, the ultimate goal is for China to one day win the World Cup and become a superpower not only in world affairs but also in the world’s most popular sport, football.
Interestingly, Sky Sports football pundit and columnist Paul Merson recently declared that he thinks that currently, Rooney is too good for China. Despite China’s current ranking of 86th in the FIFA rankings and their highest ever ranking of 37th back in 1998, China is poised to emerge as a force in world football in the coming years. Do not be surprised if one day China and the Super League becomes too good for a player with declining abilities like Rooney. Pay attention to China, my friends. The foundation of a future football superpower is being laid.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.
This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on February 27, 2017.