Cash-rich Chinese Super League gives fresh hope for mainland football growth
March 24th, 2015

Fabio Cannavaro, Tim Cahill and Sven-Goran Eriksson are among the names raising the profile of China’s lucrative domestic competition

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 March, 2015, 10:32pm
Agence France-Presse in Beijing

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China’s domestic season kicks off this week with hopes of a resurgence for the beautiful game after former England boss Sven- Goran Eriksson and rookie coach Fabio Cannavaro put the league among the world’s biggest spenders.

Chinese Super League (CSL) clubs spent €122.2 million (HK$1.06 billion) during the recently closed winter transfer window, almost double last year’s figure, second only to the English Premier League (€186.8 million) and ahead of Italy’s Serie A, according to statistics from German website transfermarkt.
Socceroo Tim Cahill, once of Premier League club Everton, is the star name among the 47 imports – including many Brazilians – who will double the number of overseas players in the competition when it starts on Saturday.
An invigorated national team who reached the quarter-finals of January’s Asian Cup and top-level political support are also giving fans hope that the game has bounced back after years of turmoil.
Chinese President Xi Jinping – who state media describe as an “avid” fan – backed a “football reform plan” last week.

The policy will see future stars trained from birth, as China seeks rapid development of talent amid rumours it could bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
The positive atmosphere around Asia’s most watched football league stands in contrast to previous years when Chinese football was riddled with corruption and the national team regularly humiliated on the pitch.
The English Premier League still dominates global football transfers, with its clubs responsible for US$1.2 billion of the US$4.1 billion spent worldwide in 2014, according to figures from the sport’s governing body Fifa.
Claims that expensive foreign talent has damaged prospects of the national side reached a climax after England’s dismal showing at last year’s World Cup.
They crashed out early after losing their opening two group games.
But pundits in China are confident its top tier will not follow a similar pattern, given that only four foreigners, including one Asian, are allowed in starting line-ups across the continent.
“I believe Chinese clubs paying top prices for top international players will be a positive thing,” television commentator Yan Qiang said.
“Unlike in England, China – and all Asian leagues – have to obey the ‘three plus one’ policy. Therefore there will always be enough room for domestic talent in the top teams.”
Much of the recent transfer activity has focused on just two clubs: champions Guangzhou Evergrande, led by Cannavaro, and Eriksson’s Shanghai SIPG. Both coaches were appointed in November, shortly after the end of the 2014 season.
Evergrande will be seeking their fifth consecutive CSL title in 2015, but will miss the recently departed Marcello Lippi, architect of the club’s recent success, which climaxed with an AFC Champions League title in 2013.
Cannavaro, the captain of Lippi’s 2006 World Cup-winning Italy side, smashed the Chinese transfer record in January with a US$17 million swoop for Brazilian Ricardo Goulart.
The 41-year-old also signed compatriot Alan for a reported US$12.3 million.
The 23-year-old Goulart appears to have hit the ground running, scoring all of Guangzhou’s goals in their opening two AFC Champions League matches, a 1-0 win over FC Seoul last month and a 3-2 victory over Western Sydney Wanderers in Australia on Wednesday.
Eriksson, meanwhile, lured Argentine attacking midfielder Dario Conca back to the CSL on a deal reportedly worth US$11 million a year.
The former Evergrande star spent only a year at Brazilian club Fluminense before returning to Asia.
Eriksson, 67, also signed Brazilian Davi from Guangzhou Evergrande and South Korean Kim Ju-young from FC Seoul.
The Swedish coach is in his second full season in China after helping Guangzhou R&F to third place last year.
R&F recorded a morale-boosting 2-0 victory at Japanese treble-winners Gamba Osaka in their AFC Champions League debut last month, but then lost to Thailand’s Buriram United 2-1 earlier this week.
The 35-year-old Cahill, Australia’s leading goalscorer, last month joined Shanghai Shenhua, the former club of Chelsea stars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, following a spell with New York Red Bulls.
“New York was amazing for me, but China is a growing market in football,” he said.
But Chen Xuyuan, president of the company that owns Eriksson’s club, warned that finance was not everything. “After all, soccer is a sport,” he told the China Daily.
“If money can solve everything, then it is no longer a sport.”
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as New hope for Chinese game as Super League kicks off

Categories: Asia,