The Great Ball of China: How Chinese president Xi Jinping is pouring billions into football to relegate the Premier League to the second division
With a new £5.1billion TV deal in place and Leicester winning a fairytale season last summer, the Premier League’s place as the richest and most exciting football league in the world seemed assured.
But – as the signings of two of global football’s most famous faces this week shows – England’s top league faces a new challenger in the Far East.
There was a time when the only competition for players, managers and TV viewers came from the top leagues in Italy, Spain and Germany.
But booming wealth in China, coupled with president Xi Jinping’s love of the beautiful game, means money is being pumped into the country’s Super League like never before.
Shanghai SIPG agreed to pay Chelsea £58million for Brazilian star Oscar this month and former Manchester City star Carlos Tevez is set to sign a £615,000-a-week deal with Shanghai Shenhua.
Oscar, Chinese football’s most expensive signing to date, will earn £400,000-a-week in Shanghai.
Tevez’s deal will elevate him above Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s highest-paid player.
The huge offers being made to European and South American stars are possible because Chinese Super League teams have been bankrolled by massive corporate investment.
Attendances for the Chinese Super League are growing steadily and it is expected to enjoy a greater profile over the next five years on the back of a new £935m TV deal with China Media Capital.
Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua, Jiangsu Suning and Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao – champions for the last six years – have been the biggest spenders, willing to pay over the market value to sign big-name stars.
China has also tried to raise its football profile abroad with West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa having received Chinese backing.
The world sat up and took notice at the start of this year after the Chinese transfer record was broken three times in the space of 10 days when Jiangsu Suning paid Shakhtar Donetsk £38.4m for Alex Teixeira, having signed Ramires from Chelsea for £25m and seen Guangzhou Evergrande up the ante with a £31m deal for Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid.