Can big name signings help China become a football superpower?

By Duncan Gordon

The Chinese Super League transfer window opened at the start of the New Year, and already some blockbuster signings have been grabbing global headlines.  But can these big money players turn China into a world football superpower?

The last few years have seen Chinese football clubs sign more and more famous players from abroad for higher and higher transfer fees and on eye watering contracts.  The start of 2017 has been no different.  Shanghai SIPG sent shockwaves through the football world by signing Brazil international Oscar from Chelsea for £60 million.  Some of the big players to join Chinese clubs in recent years have been heading towards the twilight of their careers.  However, the signing of Oscar is a statement of intent, the 25-year-old midfielder widely expected to be approaching his peak.


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£60 million Oscar arrives at Shanghai airport.  Will it have been money well spent by the time he takes off again?


Another big move is that of ex-Manchester United and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez from his boyhood club Boca Juniors to Shanghai Shenhua.  The Argentine is expected to earn £615,000 a week, making him the highest paid footballer in the world. Players like these are turning attention towards China’s domestic football league and creating excitement among the country’s avid football supporters.  However, some people in China question whether these players are worth the money.  It is certainly morally dubious whether such huge sums should be spent on international football players in a country where many people still live in poverty.  At the same time, can they really help to develop Chinese football, or will they just take the money, play out their contracts, and run, leaving little long-term benefit?


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New Shanghai Shenhua signing Carlos Tevez while at boyhood club Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires.


It’s not just players commanding huge salaries in China.  Many eyebrows were raised, both in China and abroad, at the contract given to the new national team manager Marcello Lippi back in October.  The Italian World Cup winner will reportedly earn €20 million a year to manage the underperforming national team.  China’s chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup are already all but over following a series of disappointing results.  None more so than the embarrassing 1-0 home defeat against Syria.  Unless Lippi really is a miracle-worker, Chinese football fans will have to wait until the 2022 World Cup qualifiers to find out if he is worth the money.


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A China Daily cartoonist’s take on the signing of Marcello Lippi as national team manager.


China has made it clear that it plans to become a big player in the football world.  It aims to host a World Cup by 2030 and the government has even stated the desire to win football’s ultimate prize by 2050.  The jury is out on whether the likes of Tevez, Oscar and Lippi can help China achieve its football dreams.


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