The latest rumours of big-money moves to the Chinese Super League have sparked criticism from English football’s talking heads, but do they know what they’re talking about?
It seems that the now bi-annual ‘tradition’ of European football types slinging barbs the way of China is just about to hit full swing.
That the majority do so without usually realising their own questionable history or indeed the fact that there is no eternal tradition in their lands where the ‘modern’ game is barely a couple of generations old is a delicious irony.
As is the case with the vast majority of commentary around the 2022 FIFA World Cup it’s also staggeringly naïve, poorly researched and borderline racist.
The latest triggers for the ‘traditionalists’ on the ‘old’ continent are the probable moves of South American pair Oscar and Carlos Tevez to Shanghai outfits SIPG and Shenhua respectively.
That these elite talents will be handsomely rewarded for their services, as are the majority of their contemporaries at clubs in England and elsewhere, seems to be one of the primary gripes.
Jamie Carragher, a player who earned upwards of £85,000 pounds a week towards the end of his career, much of it funded by the working class supporters who built ‘his’ club, claimed that Oscar’s move is a ‘sad day for football.’
Carragher: “A sad day for football.”
Daniel Taylor, writing in The Guardian, argued it’s ‘deeply unsatisfying’ and an ‘abandonment of…ambition…and respectability.’
He even assured his readers that China is ‘several rungs down from Major League Soccer’ without providing any basis or evidence for this assertion whatsoever – outside of the probability that seeing as English players had moved to the MLS it must be alright then.
Even the normally sensible BBC pundit Alan Green termed not just the move but Chinese football more broadly a ‘joke.’
Firstly, it’s worth questioning if this trio or any of the other multitude of ‘expert’ commentators have even stepped foot inside a Chinese football stadium.
Whether they’ve seen the frenzied support that accompanies CSL outfits right across the nation – unlike the Global Franchise Model, all front-row international camera clickers, that’s priced ordinary, local, fans out of the game in the Premier League and which they have seemingly slept through and missed.
Take, for example, the case of Beijing Guoan – one of the leading clubs in China – who this week announced their season ticket prices will not rise, with the most expensive setting you back around £140.
That’s roughly the cost of three to four average Premier League matches – in the cheap seats.
It’s worth pondering too if these self-appointed experts on Chinese football have even an inkling of the facilities available at these clubs and the astonishing youth programs in place at multiple teams across both the first and second tiers of Chinese football – several of which leave the bulk of Premier League clubs in the shade.
Not to mention the far-reaching grassroots program that is now taking the sport into more than 6,000 schools across the country – honestly what do these self-appointed purveyors of footballing intelligence even know about China outside of what a few quick Google searches have thrown their way?
As an aside, it’s also worth noting the elite level of coaching expertise that is also now flooding into Chinese football, not that the likes of Daniel Taylor care to explain that.
A FIFA World Cup winner and FIFA Confederations Cup winner in Luiz Felipe Scolari, a Premier League winner in Manuel Pellegrini, a two-time Bundesliga winner in Felix Magath and a Europa League winner in Andre Villas-Boas all now feature in China.
Lots of top coaching talent in China.
Add to that one of the most decorated players of the modern era in World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro, continuing his youthful coaching career, a Portuguese league winner in Jaime Pacheco, a J.League winner in Dragan Stojkovic and the 2013 AFC Coach of the Year in Choi Yong-soo.
Compare that to the likes of Dyche, Pardew, Pullis, Howe, Phelan, Hughes and Moyes – none of whom have come even close to winning their own domestic league let alone anything else – and it makes China look even better.
Then let’s look, shall we, at the second tier in China where we find Ciro Ferrara, assistant coach of the 2006 World Cup champions, a former Brazil Under-20 coach in Mauricio Copertino, former Iranian boss Afshin Ghotbi, South Korean manager at the 2014 World Cup, Hong Myung-bo, ex-Real Madrid and Spain U21 boss Juan Ramon Lopez Caro and a certain Sven-Goran Eriksson.
I challenge any of the loud brigade of critics to show me a more star-studded second tier anywhere in the world; they won’t tell you this, of course, because it doesn’t fit the narrative.
Sure, China has a long way to go and sure they are paying large sums of money to import the knowledge – both tactical and technical – that can help them get there but at the same time they are investing huge sums on producing their own stars and why should this ambition be questioned?
The latest threat to the establishment?
So here we have a cavalcade of critics lining up China, which is lest we forget just the latest threat to the establishment after that title slipped from the Middle East in the last couple of years, and feigning astonishment that players who move to the CSL are just chasing money.
Is this even a conversation?
Do these very same people criticising the moves for cash even understand the long and mendacious practice in their own lands that dates right back to the early days of modern football?
Do they know the case of the leading player of his time – the defender/centre-forward David Lloyd who played for four different clubs in the space of as many years in the late 1890s – chasing only cash wherever he went?
Or the story of those ‘Southern League’ clubs at the turn of the next century who enticed players to break ties with the established ‘Football League’ clubs by paying signing-on fees that were almost 100 times the weekly wage of the average worker?
Or the widely criticised ‘moonlighter’ Billy Steele and others, chasing cash during the maximum wage era?
Or the story of Syd Puddefoot who moved from West Ham to Falkirk for £5,000 in 1922 but only on the condition that his younger brother was included as part of the deal.
The list goes on and on and on of players only moving within the United Kingdom for cash and nothing more, dating back to the very early days of ‘modern’ football.
Moreover, do any of these Europhiles honestly think any young South American or African footballer grew up dreaming of playing for Burnley or Crystal Palace or Wigan or even the nouveau riche of Manchester City or Chelsea for that matter?
Burnley: The pinnacle of every footballer’s dreams?
If we talk about the so-called ‘big clubs,’ then sure this is an argument worth having but what’s so often lost on these supposed experts is just how modern professional football in Europe actually is.
Leaving aside the fact that the sport has ancient roots first charted in Asia, not Europe, the ‘modern’ history of the professional game only started after many of these critics were born.
Football is not some medieval European, eternal vessel, handed down by their antecedents since the dark ages.
The European Cup didn’t start until 1955, the European Championships started later than the Asian Cup and what many regard as the birth of a truly professional league in England – the abolishment of the maximum wage – didn’t occur until the 1960s.
You want tradition in sport?
Try boxing, running, wrestling or sumo; European football has about as much ‘tradition’ as colour television.
It’s a modern phenomenon barely two generations old in a truly professional guise and what on earth makes these Europeans criticising China think that their continent will still be the ‘centre’ of the Football Universe in another two generations.
How many of those attacking the likes of Oscar and Tevez think the vast majority of players move to or within Europe for anything other than money?
While we’re at it, how many realise the sheer absurdity of European clubs continuing to name themselves after a city that they have few ties to outside of having a stadium actually based there?
How many realise that right across Asia, clubs are limited to playing no more than four non-local players?
The Chinese Super League has limits on foreign players.
That the game is based around local communities, players and the progression from the bottom of clubs to the top – not merely going out and buying players and fielding a team entirely of foreigners.
How many wail and moan about the damage being done to the vast majority of smaller leagues in Europe as those ‘big’ clubs continue to suck their best players tighter into their small vacuum?
Here we have a case of a huge number of, predominantly English journalists, criticising a league that they do not even know the first thing about, let alone understand.
Players have, by and large, only ever moved for money – nothing more, nothing less.
It just so happened that Europe had the bulk of that money over the brief history of modern football.
It no longer does, that position now belongs to Asia.
Maybe those moving ‘just for the money’ are merely the beginning of the inevitable shift of football power from ‘West’ to ‘East’ and these critics are too blinded by their own arrogance and air of superiority to see it.
Editorial Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views or official policies of Fox Network Group Singapore Pte. Ltd. or any entity that directly or indirectly controls, is controlled by or is under common control of Twenty First Century Fox Inc. (collectively, “FNG”). FNG makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, correctness, suitability, or validity of any information or opinions within this article. FNG will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information or opinions or for any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its publication.