By Víctor Escribano
Shanghai, China, Mar 5 (efe-epa).- Just five years ago the Chinese Super League was making a name for itself with high-profile signings and eye-watering salaries but now it is mired in financial woes.
Alarm bells started to ring in February when the company that owns the league’s defending champion Jiangsu Suning announced it would cease all football activities in China. The Chinese conglomerate Suning still owns Italian giants Inter Milan.
The team’s head coach, Olaroiu, and its biggest star on the pitch, Brazilian Teixeria, had already jumped ship after winning the title as the club found itself unable to pay the salaries.
The bleak news for fans of the club came just two years after it had been strongly linked with Gareth Bale, who at the time was looking for the exit at Real Madrid. The club was formerly managed by Fabio Capello, and had players such as Ramires and Miranda in its ranks.
According to the local press, Jiangsu FC is up for sale for one yuan, but any potential buyer would have to wipe off $60 million of debt in the first season alone.
“The fact that no one wants to step in and take over the club is not a very good sign for the future of Chinese football,” says Cameron Wilson, founder of Wild East Football.
The expert in Chinese football said it was still possible that a last minute buyer could rescue Jiangsu FC.
“It is too ridiculous even by Chinese football standards, but they’re running out of time,’ he adds.
“What’s happened to Jiangsu is easily one of the worst things to happen to Chinese football.”
How did the Chinese Super League end up like this just five years after the Chinese government promised it would become a soccer superpower by 2050?
“I suspect there’s been some political change in China where someone has ‘said let’s take the football project down a few notches’,” Wilson says.
“When you see the government saying ‘ok, we’re gonna make a special plan to develop football’ it made everyone think this was a great opportunity,” he adds. “I think companies, big businesses, thought they could get a lot of political favor by investing in football.”
Wilson says Chinese soccer clubs would not survive without the backing of business, which means, in his opinion, Covid-19 had little financial influence on the league’s financial woes.
“I think the government may have been a bit embarrassed by all this huge money being spent in players from overseas and there hasn’t been any return on that,” he says.
The Chinese Football Association recently announced new regulations to prevent clubs from shelling out millions for international stars.
Jiangsu FC is not a unique case. Last year, Tianjin Quanjian, the former haunt of Pato, Luís Fabian and Axel Witsel, folded after cutting links with its sponsor due to legal issues. This year many clubs are surviving on investments from the state.
Long gone are the days of Drogba, Mascherano and Anelka plying their trade in China — Wilson believes it could take 20 years before stars of such calibre return. EFE-EPA