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. WRONG!
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.
Oscar, Chinese football’s most expensive signing to date, will earn £400,000-a-week in Shanghai.
£935million TV deal described as ‘a gamble’
The Premier League’s big money TV rights deal seems to assure its place at the top of the world game in coming seasons.
But, despite being in its infancy, the Chinese Super League already has a lucrative contract in place.
China Media Capital paid around £935million for the five-year broadcast rights to the league last year.
The move was initially described as a gamble, but, earlier this year, the company sold a portion of them at an apparent profit.
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.
Veteran stars seeking an easy payday at the end of their careers is nothing new, of course.
America was a lucrative stop-off for the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer, Best and Cruyff in the old NASL long before Major League Soccer came along to offer the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard a last hurrah.
How do you pick a first 11 from 1.3bn people?
According to Fifa, China – a country of 1.3billion people – has just over 25,000 football players.
Despite that being one of the highest numbers of players of any country in the world, the percentage of people playing the game is still tiny compared to some South American countries, where up to one in four citizens play the game.
The difference now, however, is that players in their prime are heading to China, lured by the astronomical figures on offer, rather than pursuing their football aspirations at a significantly higher level in Europe or South America.
Oscar is 25 and in the prime of his life. Fellow BrazilianTeixeira was 26 when he turned his back on the chance to join Liverpool at the start of this year and instead signed for Jiangsu Suning.
And Chinese football hasn’t finished yet. Sportsmail revealed at the weekend that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has turned down an offer from China of more than £1m-a-week in favour of spending another year at Manchester United, no doubt aware that he will still be able to command equally jaw-dropping sums when he eventually leaves Old Trafford.
His United teammate Wayne Rooney was offered £75m over three years by Shanghai SIPG, while Manchester City’s Yaya Toure turned down £577,000-a-week from Jiangsu Suning to stay in the Premier League for a little longer.
President Xi has set out a 10-year plan, running from 2015 to 2025, to double the size of the Chinese sports economy to more than £600billion, based on state and private investment in football.
He wants to produce 100,000 players by ploughing money into grassroots football and creating 20,000 new ‘football schools’ and 70,000 pitches by 2020.
His plan is to turn China into a superpower in the sport, capable of qualifying for, hosting and then winning the World Cup.
President Xi said he wants China to win the World Cup in the next 15 years.
China are currently 83rd in the FIFA rakings, between Antigua & Barbuda and the Faroe Islands.
They have only appeared at a World Cup finals once before, going out at the group stage without scoring a single goal.
President Xi was given a guided tour of Manchester City’s new academy last year shortly before China Media Capital announced a state-backed £265m investment in the club’s owner, Sheikh Mansour’s, company.
The president’s aims are as much economic as cultural, China’s government hopes to create a sports industry worth £550billion, meaning the country will be less dependent on manufacturing and other sectors.