THE FOREIGN INVASION There is now a great focus towards improving the Chinese Super League and professional clubs. There is a huge spurt in the club budget and many public undertakings and corporate big wigs are funding clubs. The spending power of these clubs has risen astronomically, as was seen by the record breaking transfer window in January 2016.

The total spend of 194.2 million pounds on new players was higher than English Premier League’s 176 m

2016 saw big global names like Colombian striker Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid, Brazilian midfielder Ramires and Alex Teixeira make their way to China. The total spend of 194.2 million pounds on new players was higher than English Premier League’s 176 m. Among other high profile players to have moved to China are Gervinho (Ex- Arsenal), Paulinho (Ex- Tottenham Hotspurs), Tim Cahill (Ex-Everton), Demba Ba(Ex-Chelsea) and Asamoah Gyan (Ex-Sunderland). Guangzhou Evergrande are five time CSL winners and are also the current continental club champions. As with most things Chinese, when they decide to do it big, they make it gargantuan, and Guangzhou boasts of infrastructure and a football academy that the best in the world would be envious of. Fifty plus pitches across a sprawling 167 acres, coaching 2500 plus students, and partnered by European giants Real Madrid. Thus  not only are better players going to China but better coaches at grassroots and senior level as well. Serie A winning coach Alberto Zaccheroni, Luis Felipe Scolari (World Cup winner), Sven Goran Eriksson (Ex- Manchester city coach) among others.

Not only are better players going to China but better coaches at grassroots and senior level as well

At this frenetic pace and with even more spending in the future, we could see even bigger names moving to China. The league attendance is likely to go up 15% in 2016 from 22,000 compared to last season that would mean it might overtake Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Mexican League making the Chinese super league the biggest non-European league in the world. WHERE IS THE MONEY COMING FROM?  At present, it seems there is no dearth of investment in Chinese football, and this investment is only projected to rise. High net worth individuals and companies like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Wang Jianlin, Jia Yeting are now stakeholders in Chinese football and are devising a roadmap for the future.

PwC estimates that by end of 2016 revenues from ticketing, merchandising and advertising in China would reach $3.4billion.

In 2015 broadcasters paid just $9m to show CSL, but by 2016 it was over $200m as part of a $1.25 billion package over the next five seasons. PwC estimates that by end of 2016 revenues from ticketing, merchandising and advertising in China would reach $3.4billion.  CSL appointed International Management Group (IMG) as an exclusive agent for sale of global TV rights outside China and with big stars coming to China the whole profile of the league is getting an international outlook which is a huge opportunity to attract global TV viewership. Adidas’s recent decision to expand its brand presence in China to even smaller cities with additional 3000 stores also indicates the growing sports market in China. Further, Chinese companies are also investing in foreign clubs like Atletico Madrid in Spain, New York City FC in the USA. Not only is better investment coming to Chinese football but infrastructure is also improving across the country. China has also hired required experts from outside with a proven track record to successfully plan and implement their ambitious plan. REFORM AND CHALLENGES IN CHINESE FOOTBALL In the recent past football activities and planning were controlled by the Chinese Football Administrative Center. Thought of as an ineffective, even damaging influence, it was eliminated under the new reforms proposed by the government. As part of these reforms the Chinese Football Association were given more decision making powers and will have more power and autonomy in managing and developing football in China. World football can only benefit from a 1.4 billion strong population showing a real interest in football. A country of China’s size investing in football automatically means a growth of near about 20% for the sport globally. Women’s football is already growing in China and its team qualifying for the Rio Olympics 2016 will certainly give it a big boost. 


  • Sustaining this high investment will be one of the major challenges, as Chinese football would require consistent investment of this magnitude for next 10 years to realize this big dream
  • A local superstar needs to emerge within next few years to further engage the masses
  • A change in political leadership could shift the focus away from football given the current Presidents love for the sport
  • Corruption needs to be eliminated at al levels
  • Capacity building at the local level to sustain this ambitious project. Huge trained manpower would be required to bring about this sea change in football, which would require a massive effort and focus. Polishing local talents would require availability for top class competencies in huge numbers.

China can do it and their belief comes from their success with their economic model and their will to succeed. The world is watching. Will they come forth?

By Shaji Prabhakaran

Football Consultant| Sports Expert| President Football Delhi (FA)| Author| Ex-FIFA/AIFF| Consultant AFC, FIFA, ICC| CIES| Development| Management|

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