China’s goal is to become a world football superpower by 2050, and with the way the country has begun to invest into the sport, it is hard to believe they won’t be.
On paper it seems like China could be at the top of the game. Sure, the country has 34 years to produce domestic players like they never have before. And, yes the country is putting money into the domestic game; but can this dream of becoming a football superpower in three decades become a reality?
What does the MLS and CSL have in common?
In 1994, the World Cup landed in the USA, exposing a generation of sports fans to a game many knew nothing about. The tournament paved the way for a new domestic league, Major League Soccer, to be introduced in 1996 with the national team’s stars making up the backbones of each team. Yet, the MLS struggled after some promising moments early on, and it wasn’t until David Beckham’s arrival in 2007 that the league began to take off. It needed time.
The Chinese Super League is still quite young itself. Founded in 2012, the CSL faced many problems, not too different the MLS. Unlike MLS, the CSL has a different model to grow its popularity and has paid to bring many players from Europe, Africa and South America to play in the league. MLS has decided to go a different route, using a salary cap to prevent spending to get out of hand. Chinese football hasn’t, and due to the amount of money in the CSL, has raised eyebrows around the world.
Domestic Chinese Football Investment
China’s development of players is well behind its Asian neighbours South Korea and Japan. In comparison to MLS, although the US isn’t known for creating skilful domestic players, the infrastructure is in place for American players to learn the game at a young age. That is where China is changing.
Enter Tom Byer, an American soccer teaching guru that has worked with youth teams in Japan, developing players that have gone on to the national teams and J-League. Byer’s job is to change the culture of soccer for children, helping them learn the game. His job is imminence and unenvious by many. However, if he can make the inroads he did in Japan, 2050 could be realistic.
Can’t buy me love
Prior to the 2016 season, CSL clubs spent £200 million on players. Players such as Gervinho, Fredy Guarin and Alex Teixeira were plucked away from European sides, and all three taken while at the heights of their club careers. Teixeira in particular was snapped away from Shakhtar Donetsk by Jiangsu Suning, as top clubs around Europe were outbid for the Brazilian. Chinese football clubs will continue to splash cash, and with the nature of football players, teams will be able to add more high priced players in the coming transfer windows. Right now, however, they will be able to sign a certain type of player, but big named Europeans may be a stretch.
Can the CSL rival the top leagues in Europe?
China has a few things going against them in becoming the top league in the world. Compared to the English Premier League and the like, the CSL does not have the history. In addition, top European leagues have a steady flow of top players, something the development in China – over time – can help.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of the CSL and Chinese football hurting it, is the language barrier. With English being the de facto second language of Europeans, with games from leagues around the continent broadcast in English, the CSL doesn’t have the same draw for fans outside the country. The language barrier mustn’t be ignored, because for those living in Europe or North America that do not speak Chinese, it is a major factor.
With 34 years until China’s target date of becoming a superpower in football, it is possible the country can develop into the next great. It won’t happen overnight, and the executives of the CSL and the Chinese Football Federation must keep their hands out of making any sudden changes. Development will take time, but with Tom Byers and company to lead the way, Chinese football is on the right track for now.