If you were to evaluate a nation by the number of millionaires it has, you would place the US at the highest pedestal. However, we all are aware of how China is on a rapid path to larger and superior things. And that China is generating millionaires at a faster rate than the US.
And it seems like the nation is bringing their renowned levels of discipline implementing steps, not only to improve the nature of the game within the country, but also with an intention to turn it into a football powerhouse.
Grassroots: We have constantly heard about the need to expose the game to kids at a younger age. New regulations were set in place to prioritize and include football at the school level. And we are not talking about grassroots level here; we are talking about textbook levels. The Ministry of Education has led a scheme based on a national strategy to spread the game across the nation. Reforms have been introduced to enhance and expose approximately 2.5 million school going children to at least three hours of football a week (even if you hate the game).
National tournaments are to be organized by the MoE, which will eventually see number of school teams’ rise to 20,000 by 2020 and to 50,000 by 2025.
Record Breaking Football School: The Evergrande Football School located in Qingyuan was recently recognised as the largest residential football academy by Guinness World Records after it was established that an astonishing 2,577 students are now registered at the institution.
The school, managed by the Real Madrid Foundation and an international sports consultant – SOXNA boasts of ultramodern facilities and educational program jointly.
And of course, the school comprises of a substantial number of football pitches – FORTY TWO.
Opportunity for Sports Brands: This month German brand Adidas was among the first to take advantage of the growing Chinese interest in the game having agreed to a partnership with the Ministry of Education. The three-year partnership would include promoting the game within the schools by developing a program for 20,000 primary and middle schools while training approximately 50,000 teachers.
“The development of grassroots football is a key vehicle for Adidas in empowering rising athletes, nurturing a next generation of football players and inspiring a new generation of football fans in China,” said Adidas China head Colin Currie.
Chinese Super League: The league has gone through its rough patches in recent years due to widespread corruption, gambling and match-fixing leading to several top officials within the game arrested.
Since 2011, the Chinese Super League (CSL) has gone through a radical but positive change. The league was renamed as Ping An Chinese FA Super League in 2014 after the financial firm signed a four-year deal setting a record as the longest title sponsorship contract in CSL’s history worth $93.58 million.
On its 10th anniversary this year, CSL is gracefully moving towards incorporation which may lead the league to potentially be a company with the largest valuation globally, set at $1.55 billion.
And why wouldn’t it? The league generated revenues of approximately $69 million in 2014 due to increasing royalties and audiences as well as sales of fake products. And in terms of people walking through the turnstiles, in a nation of billion people, one would imagine the numbers to be in the millions. It is but just under five’s. The league saw an average attendance of 42,154 in 2014 with total attendance reaching 4.5 million among the 16 teams – the highest the league has ever seen since formation.
Big Name Imports: Since AFC had implemented the rule of “4+1”, wherein the “+1” means clubs can add a player from Asia that is not from any continents outside of Asia, teams across the continent have carefully selected their three foreigners.
Post 2011, China popped up as a nation to consider for superstars who were looking to rest their aging legs. The fact that the opportunity would guarantee one last hefty paycheck would make the eventual move of many big name players, all too sweet. Players like Drogba, Anelka, Kanoute, Cahill, Ba, Gyan, Robinho have braced the league either in the past and/or at the moment. In Gyan’s case, the financial offer was so enticing that the even the Arabs could not resist it. Gyan’s club Shanghai SIPG paid a reported figure of around $22m, record breaker in Asian football, to pry him away from Al Ain.
However, with the recent decline in the country’s stock market, one has to wonder if China can keep up with its transfer policy.
But is this entire scheme helping the nation?
Though it is a little too early in the game to suggest that it is, one thing is certain – the arrival of these stars is definitely raising the profile of the CSL and the country in general. However, it has not reflected in the nation’s domestic football output. Though the CSL may be spending millions on imports we are still waiting for at least one Chinese footballer to make the headlines. Few have come close but not to a level where the world or to that matter, Asia has been talking about.
The country’s rankings according to FIFA (not that it is can be considered as a viable example of verify the might of a nation) has fluctuated around the 70’s, with their best years being the late 1990’s when they were ranked 37th in 1998.
But with the latest push from the government, it looks like it will only be a matter of time before China knocks on Asia’s door yet one more time. The past two Olympics displayed a sense of China’s dominance using soft power wherein Chinese athletes took home 100 (Beijing 2008) and 88 (London 2012) medals, respectively. Could it be applied to Football?
Spectacularly, China will overcome its problems just like in other kinds of competition, making the nation’s wait for glory not too distant away.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for this documentary “11 Out of 1.3 Billion; Football in China” – the first documentary of its kind about Football in China which is to be released sometime soon.