It was a Chinese dream driven by the very kind of desire that has seen this nation ascend from destitution to the world’s second-biggest economy in the space of only years and years.
Xi Jinping laid out a plan to transform China from a footballing minority into a soccer superpower in 2011, about a year before he assumed power. He put his focus on the game’s most elevated prize of all and framed a three phase plan for the men’s public group: to win a World Cup, host a World Cup, and qualify for another World Cup.
The scope of that task was enormous for a nation that had only once attempted to qualify for soccer’s most prestigious competition since 1957, when it was ranked outside the top 70.
However few might have questioned Xi’s assurance when the Chinese Football Relationship in 2016 uncovered an arrangement to make the nation a “world football superpower” by 2050.
Upholding those words was a flood in spending that blew some people’s minds of players and fans all over the planet. Cash poured in from state-affiliated conglomerates and developers benefiting from a property boom, flooding the nation’s top domestic competition.
Every big-name signing made the Chinese Super League (CSL) a hotbed for foreign superstars looking for lucrative pay days. For $54 million, the Brazilian Alex Teixeira signed with Jiangsu Suning; his countryman Mass to Shanghai SIPG for $60 million; Oscar, likewise to Shanghai, for $65 million.
Soon, the CSL was spending as much as the biggest European leagues. US$451 million was spent on transfers during the boom year of 2015–16, placing it among the world’s top five spending leagues.
The demise of Xi Jinping’s football aspirations
China’s soccer fortunes, on the other hand, have plummeted as quickly as they have risen in the more than a decade since Xi first articulated his ambition. The sport is in ruins due to poor financial decisions, a three-year pandemic, and alleged high-level corruption.
State-affiliated businesses and developers ran out of money when Covid struck the economy and caused the property market to stall. As a result of strict pandemic regulations, there were fewer sponsors and fewer fans attending live games. Clubs battled to pay compensation; Many of the foreign coaches and players brought in to improve the domestic game quit, citing the government’s burdensome zero-Covid policy, which made it nearly impossible to see their families.
With the CSL’s 2023-24 season starting off on April 15 (in an indication of the confusion, the authority start date was reported only multi week ahead of time), most groups are still quickly tracking down substitutions.
William Bi, a Beijing-based sports consultant, claims that the virus “exacerbated the Chinese Super League’s whole financial scenario, accelerating its downfall and making it almost impossible to gain revenue from league sponsors and broadcasters.” Many people believe that the rot had already begun long before Covid arrived on the scene.
However, while the reasons for the apparent demise of Xi’s dream are still up for debate, as is the case with any good soccer match, it is hard to argue with a score that indicates that the vast majority of the foreign talent brought in to build that vision voted with their feet.
Here, the data speak for themselves: According to the Transfermarkt database, at least 75 of the league’s top 100 transfer deals were with foreign players. There are now only three of them in China.
The gold rush
It was thought that a quick way to raise standards would be to fast-track the naturalization of foreign players who had family ties to China. Nico Yennaris (now Li Ke), a former Arsenal prospect, and Tyias Browning (Jiang Guangtai), a former Everton player with Chinese ancestry, were among the first to make the move.
The naturalizations of five Brazilians—Fernando, who became Fei Nanduo; Aloisio, who became Luo Guofu; Elkeson, who became Ai Kesen; Ricardo Goulart, who became Gao Late; and Alan Carvalho, who became A Lan—were more contentious because none of them had Chinese ancestry.
However, skeptics will point out that all of these naturalizations occurred during boom times, when money was flowing freely. All five of those Brazilians fled China during the pandemic; only two have since returned. Goulart quit in 2021 claiming that his team Guangzhou had not paid him his wages and has even given up his Chinese citizenship.
He is not the only one to do so. Another person who has doubts is Roberto Siucho, who was born and raised in Peru. After Siucho moved to CSL giants Guangzhou Evergrande in 2019, he renounced his Peruvian citizenship to pursue naturalization through his late Chinese grandfather.
Siucho, who officially changed his name to Xiao Taotao, stated, “It was a really difficult decision, because I knew that once I became a Chinese national, I would lose my chance to be called up for the Peru senior team.”
However, I thought it was a good choice. I believe in the event that my granddad was alive, he’d have been thrilled.”
After a period of time, Siucho has renaturalized as a Peruvian and is currently playing for his former club, Universitario, once more. He has desires of playing for the Peruvian public group.
According to him, “a little bit of everything” was the driving force behind the decision. Despite this, there was a distinct turning point.