The Rise of the Red Dragon ⋆ An Old International

The Rise of the Red Dragon

A comment on the debate about players transferring to China.

The January transfer window offers plenty of opportunity to gossip about players who go wherever their agent thinks best for his pockets or how much players, coaches, managers earn here or there. This debate is to a certain extent understandable as gossip is a form of social interaction. It also serves to highlight the most important points in society or among social groups. That money is the most obvious point to talk about and not the state of nation, the media or any other topic indicates that money is an important issue; either because of the lack thereof or simply because it is so easy to talk about other people’s money than about much graver issues.

Go East

The discussion about professional footballers chosing to play in China offers interesting insights into the mindset of journalists and the football establishment. For the economics editor of the Guardian, Larry Elliott, the move of Oscar from Chelsea to Shanghai for for £52m is a worrying sign. For Chelsea it means making a nice profit as they spent £19m and will have received almost thrice that figure in return when the deal is sealed. The wages are reported to be around £400,000 a week and must be considered ‘silly’. Silly because Oscar has recently struggled to get into the starting XI at Stamford Bridge. Silly because it is a sign that the Chinese economic bubble is about to burst. Elliott argues that Chinese football clubs and billionaires buying up ‘trophy’ assets is a hallmark of a bubble economy and he continues that the Chinese bubble is the last to burst after the US and EU have experienced it in 2008. This is a bold claim and speaks of a short memory. None of the economic editors of any colour: left, right, centre have foreseen the crash of 2008. Yet, they allow themselves to forecast the Chines bubble to burst. This is hubris par excellence.

The transfer of Oscar to China is an example of a lack of ambition from the player’s position. At 25 he has the so-called best years as a player still ahead of him. Yet he speaks of playing in China as having been his dream. Sometimes it is better players keep their mouths shut. This statement simply raises serious doubts about his sanity. Oscar will surely raise the profile of the football league in China as have other players. Most people though discount the possibility that Oscar simply wanted to go where he would be playing. Given that a career has a time span of a maximum of 20 years, it is thus understandable that he moved where the money would be good and where he would have plenty of playing time. The term mercenary describes best the sort of player Oscar is.

The excitement about Carlos Tevez’ transfer to China during the Christmas break was understandable. The amount of money he will earn is amoral and highly questionable. Yes, Tevez is a seasoned player with trophies won at any club he has played for: Boca Juniors, Man United and Juve being the top clubs. Earning more than £600000 a week is ‘a disgusting amount’ of money as a friend has described it. Indeed it is. Many people will not earn this much in their lifetime. Moreover, no one will see their salary multiply by 20 for roughly the same work. If I was a young player earning £1000 a month and would move to a new club where I would earn £20000 a month it is understandable that I would work hard to prove myself to the new coach and team mates. Tevez does not need to prove himself anymore; he is 32 and his track record speaks for itself; the only doubt is his international career where he scored only 13 goals in 76 games for Argentina. He was part of the gold medal team in 2004, Argentina’s last major success to date. There is a hook to this deal, however. Should Tevez decide to return to Argentina before the contract comes to an end in two years time, Boca will lose a significant amount of money that they have received. Regardless what will happen, the amount keeps people talking.

Out of the top ten players in football, currently 5 are playing in China as this image shows:

Of course, The Sun had to mention that China is a communist country. The paper indirectly insinuates that China controls most of economy and culture in order to dominate. However, the UK and the US et.al. do just the same with the intention to dominate in as many spheres as possible: politics, sports, culture etc.

Other Issues Overlooked

People talk about money often prevents a serious discussion about the state of football in China. Is this country really still a footballing backwater as many in Europe want to make us believe? Let’s face the facts. China is a huge country with a population twice as big as Europe and almost 4 times that of the USA. Over the last years the country has made a huge leap forward in its development. It is no longer appropriate to speak of China as a second or even worse third world country. It must be seen as a global player in many areas. Football is only the latest addition. When players like Nicholas Anelka or Didier Drogba played there it was considered to be the swan song to their careers. This was only a step on the ladder for the Chinese football pyramid. The changes since are quite astonishing. There is a Felipe Scolari working at Guangzhou Evergrande. Another World Cup winner, Marcello Lippi is currently coaching the national team and preceded Scolari at Evergrande. That’s two world cup winning coaches engaged in China. Naysayers may argue that neither of these coaches are any longer considered to be world class. This is not the issue. Both would not need to work at all, not to mention work in China. Sure, money does play a role, yet their vast experience is almost invaluable for a country like China. Sure, this is a win-win deal for all sides involved. Again, money and experience are not the main issues at work here. Far more important than that is the fact that Asia and China foremost has become a major player in football, at least financially. What this means for Europe and football globally is anyone’s guess. Though change it means, that’s for sure. All the world is mad about change; change FIFA, change UEFA. Make football the game of the people again and not only available for the rich and the tourists who can afford ticket prices north of £50 for a decent seat. Most people would agree that television deciding kick-off times needs to be at least curtailed if not banished at all. But speak to people about China and most would wrinkle their noses.

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