Unpacking China and their modern ‘soccer revolution’

In a recent development in the world soccer theater, a strange power has unexpectedly risen in the east. Over the past few weeks mul­tiple high-level players have been purchased at exorbitant prices and transferred away from their clubs.

The enormous amount of cash that has been thrown onto multiple negotiation tables has as­tounded even some of the largest clubs in Eu­rope. Even more, these massive European clubs have been outbid by these buyers. Where could such an enormously strong financial back­ing come from? The answer lies with Donald Trump’s favorite business partner: China.

For those who can remember the 2008 Olympics, hopefully they can also remember China’s massive statewide buildup of athlet­ics leading up to the event. With the massive support of the Chinese government, Chinese athletes achieved superb performances in the total medal count, earning 100 total medals and 51 gold medals. With the Olympics now behind them, it appears that the Chinese government has now prioritized the creation of a successful soccer culture in China.

Despite its large power and influence in the world economy and political scene, China’s presence in the soccer world is almost un­known. Their national team has only qualified for one World Cup, in 2002, where the team lost all three games. No superstar player has emerged from China to achieve glory abroad. For a country that historically prides itself as being the “center of the world,” this is a shame­ful fact.

The Chinese government has acknowledged the fact that a massive overhaul is needed of the entire youth soccer development system in China. President Xi Jinping recently wrote a paper outlining a “Soccer Revolution” for the country. A prominent part of this plan is to eventually create 50,000 soccer “schools” to help develop youth talent across China’s mas­sive population.

To any outside observer, it is not too diffi­cult to realize that China now means business. Building on the current plan for youth develop­ment, China has also now taken the initiative to also bring in as much foreign talent as possi­ble. This impetus is the reason for the current splurge.

The most recent transfer has been that of the star Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande for a large sum of £32 million, or $44 million. This trade was mas­sive, even by European standards, which have grown rapidly over the past few years.

What is more interesting is that Jackson Martinez is not quite even a superstar. In the 2014-2015 season last year, he was a standout player for the club Porto. However, Martinez has been fairly subpar for one of the best clubs in Europe. The fact that a player of his level was able to garner such a large transfer fee speaks volumes about the willingness of Chinese clubs to pay an absolute premium for foreign players.

But why would Chinese clubs want to bring in foreign players when their government wants to foster youth development? Would it not make more sense for clubs to capitalize on this by establishing their own private acade­mies to attract top local talent?

In the long term planning for clubs like Guangzhou Evergrande that is exactly the plan. But in the meantime, clubs across China must also cultivate a cultural interest in soccer. There will be no point to this entire project if the citizens aren’t incredibly interested in soc­cer.

When an entire developed nation becomes obsessed with soccer, it doesn’t matter how small or large it is, its teams will improve. This is the reason why a country as small as the Netherlands has continuously been a major influence in world soccer, whereas a country as large and rich as the United States has never really held any importance.

By bringing in a variety of superstars that will light up the quality of play in the Chinese Super League, clubs hope to bring the sport of soccer into the limelight and into the hearts of fans across China. Progress has already been made in this category, as a variety of superstars from European soccer have come to play in China.

Some of these players are Tim Cahill, Demba Ba, Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Paulinho, Asamoah Gyan, Robinho, Gervinho and Fredy Guarin. Adding to that list will be the players Ramires from Chelsea and Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk.

One of the major concerns from observers is that this rapid expenditure on China’s behalf will begin to “suck out” a large margin of quali­ty players from Europe. This is not what every­one should be fearing.

In some time, if the plan is executed well, the Chinese development system should begin to produce players that will be able to compete at the same level in Europe as those players that were transferred in. Then those players will be­come commercially available.

The real concern for any avid soccer fans is the potential of China. A country of 1.4 billion individuals will have an incredibly deep talent pool to pull from. Without a doubt, Chinese players will begin to step into the world stage and the national team itself will also begin to perform much better than ever before.

Perhaps China will become the first interna­tional team not from Europe or South America to win the World Cup. If their growth in soccer sustains itself, China’s gamble on their pres­ence in world soccer will pay off and we may enter a new era of soccer, with a more eastern focus than ever before.

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