Where are the Chinese at the World Cup?

If you are stuck in the traffic jam in Beijing or Shanghai, don’t hesitate to ask your taxi driver what he thinks about his national football team. You shouldn’t be surprised to hear some « Pfff ! » answered without any hesitation. In fact, nobody believes in the Chinese team any more. They arrived in The World Cup only once, in 2002, and have been knocked to the canvas 3 times in… 3 matchs without any goal on their side. The past years have only been similar except a 1-0 against France during a friendly match in 2010.

In 2011, the famous Spanish trainer José Antonio Camacho is taken in by China to qualify the team for the World Cup… As you have seen, we haven’t seen many Chinese on the field. In 2013, Camacho is dismissed after the stinging defeat at home 5-1 against the small team of Thailand during a friendly match. After this event, supporters stopped believing and the federation definitely doesn’t know what to do.

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This doesn’t mean Chinese aren’t interested in football at all

The football that Chinese love is played elsewhere. Try to say Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich or even Real Madrid and you will see your taxi driver’s face light up ! Zidane is still well-known but it is David Beckman that they prefer.

The Champions League is broadcasted on the CCTV-5, the English Premier League watched on Beijing TV or Shanghai TV. Chinese can also follow some matches on line with Sina and PPTV. Most of you must know, with the time difference, we have to wait the middle of the night to be able to watch games. Therefore, don’t think 1.35 billions people know all the players of each team. But at least names of the 5th or 6th best team and players are often famous in China as well.

China is a land of opportunity and with the quality of football players they have, they should pick up in the European field. Big European clubs already try to draw Chinese audience. Marketing campaign, pre-season march in China, social network… Beckman is sent to get a walkabout and club’s website are opening pages in Chinese. FC Barcelona count up more than 3 million fans on its Tencent Weibo account. On Sina Weibo, Manchester United gets 2 million, Liverpool has 1.5 million while Arsenal enjoys 1.3 million. Since they have been bought back by the Quatar, The PSG is reaching 700,000 followers but it is the only French club present on Weibo.

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Again, it is all about money

Why European clubs are putting that much effort ? We know that with the counterfeiting, selling under shirt or official by-product is no mean feat. The TV and Internet diffusion is at a ridiculous price compared to in Europe or even in Thailand or Malaysia.

What matters for now, is to be present and wait for opportunities to present themselves. Chinese investors are starting to covet European football. For example when they made Beckham ambassador of the luxury football or they built stadium. « Stadium diplomacy » is when China decide to offer stadium in Africa or South America to make business at the same time.

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What about the Chinese championship then ?

The Chinese Super League has been launched barely 20 years ago and is played every year from March to December between 16 different teams all part of China. During those two past decades, the CSL had been through a lot. Most of the time, because of the harsh corruption of extremely popular sports bet that has fixed games. We can’t even count the number of scandal that happened following falsified results. In 2011, a lot of manager have been put in jail. It might be the revival Chinese football has been waiting for.

Nevertheless, the CSL still work under the goodwill of the government which appoint person in charge and define its objectives. This year, it is a former tennis table star converted in politics that has the honor to direct the Chinese Football Association. A position that was previously occupied by a former volleyball player. He will have the difficult task to restore the Chinese Football and the National League’s image.

For most of the football’s fan, it is in training and in amateur football that efforts must be made. Chinese football is certainly not the same as European football especially in children and teenagers lives.There are not lots of clubs and training centers out there and they don’t have that much experiences compared to Europe. But the long term run hasn’t been the priority for Federation until now.

Anyway, until now, the Chinese League always had the financial means to compete against the best. Maybe not against Europe but easily against the rest of Asia which has been dominated by Japan so far, Korea and maybe some clubs in Middle East. Since 2011, it is the wealthy real estate group Wanda, and its owner Wang Jianlin (王健林), that sponsors the League. The company used to owned for many years the Dalian club when it was at the top of the competition, and decided to abandon the Chinese football after the few scandals that have been fully exposed. Clubs are all directed by large Chinese companies that use football as an opportunity to shine and this, whatever the cost.

Here are the teams you need to know :

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Guangzhou Evergrande FC (广州恒大) / Site officiel / Weibo officiel

Guangzhou Evergrande FC has been the favourite for many year. And indeed, the Cantonese team won the past three editions ot the league. Moreover, it is the only club of China that won the Asian Champions League against the Korean champions FC Seoul. The team finally reached the semi-finals of the World Club Cup where it lost 3-1 against the Bayern Munich.

So why Guangzhou Evergrande FC has such good result ? Since 2011, the club has been ranked in first division thanks to Chinese and Foreign quality players which have been gradually added to the team. Therefore, Guangzhou can enjoy the striker Lucas Barrios, transferred from Borussia Dortmund, the center field Dario Conca (best Brazilian player in 2010) or even Muriqui and Elkeson which are two other very good Brazilian players. In addition, in 2012, the club decided to break open it’s piggy-bank to recruit Marcello Lippi, the Italian trainer that made Italy win the World Cup in 2006.

Guangzhou FC seems to overtake the championship, for example in 2013, they lost only 1 match and were crowned champion 5 days before the end of it. Even though, it doesn’t mean there is not any competition.

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Shandong Luneng Taishan (山东鲁能泰山) / Site officiel / Weibo officiel

Shandong club finished at the second place in the 2013 championship. Trained by Serbe Radomir Antić (former coach of Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid) until last winted, it is the Brazilian coach Cuca that will take the lead next winter. The club also decided to recruit two South American strikers : Montillo (from Santos) and Vagner Love (from CSK Moscou). The club also kept the local talent that made its success last season such as Wang Yangpo (王永珀) or the young Sino-Korean Jingdao Jin (金敬道). The bill is reaching 25 million of euros so let’s hope next season will be promising.

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Shanghai Greenland (上海绿地申花)/ Site officiel / Weibo officiel

Shanghai has 3 different clubs. One of them is owned by another real estate giant : The Greenland Group (绿地控股集团). Before it has been bought at the begining of the year, it used to be called Shanghai Shenhua (上海申花) which is the name of the former owner. The past season, this club might have been the most famous. Not because of its trophy but because of the salary they pay to its players… After all, the club attracted Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba in Shanghai thanks to that. However, this was in 2012 and since then, the wind has turned and because of the unsatisfying result, salaries haven’t been given. Therefore, the Argentinian coach and the two French star have left. Last winter the club has decided to recruit cheap numbers so we don’t think it will get anywhere this year or the one after.

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Guangzhou R&F (广州富力) / Site officiel / Weibo officiel

This season, the other Guangzhou team, also owned by a real estate Cantonese group could catch the attention of the audience. They ranked at the 6th position last year and got some new players to enter in the game. Two Chinese, Zhang Jipeng (姜至鹏) and Wang Xiaolong (王晓龙) and one Korean Park Jong-Woo were added to reinforce the centre field. They are also seeking for players from Africa or South America but it won’t be before next season. Nevertheless, they decided to copy their neighbour and get a famous Swedish coach : Sven-Göran Eriksson (used to train England).

What about the others ?

Upon the 12 others clubs that are competiting, only some of them distinguish themselves : Beijing Guoan (北京国安) has been on the podium the last three edition, Guizhou Renhe (贵州人和) not far from that at the 4th position, Dalian Aerbin (大连阿尔滨) which is a young club still with only 3 seasons in total, the two other clubs from Shanghai Shanghai Shenxin (上海申鑫) et Shanghai Dongya (上海东亚) and much more…