China may have failed to qualify for the World Cup, as I mentioned last week. But football in the country is currently making news around the world.
This time, though, few are talking about international failures or the sad state of Chinese football at the grassroots level. Instead, it’s all about the exciting new era of the Chinese Super League – and the amount of money that’s currently swishing around it.
It’s not a completely new development, but it came to the attention of the world’s press in a big way this week as Shanghai Shenhua signed Nicolas Anelka from Chelsea.
The Frenchman is 32, but his career is far from over. And it has been quite some career, with the striker having played with clubs including Arsenal, Paris SG, Real Madrid and Liverpool before he headed to southwest London.
He’s played nine times in the Premier League this season, and is a far cry from the over-the-hill stars that sometimes head to the Gulf. And for this he will be very well compensated – to the tune of $300,000 a week if reports are to be believed.
But what has got the international media really excited is the expectation that Shanghai, and its rivals, aren’t going to stop there. The club is also thought to want Anelka’s former Chelsea strike partner Didier Drogba too. The African hit man is an international star, and if he agreed to head to the Middle Kingdom, interest really would go through the roof.
Shanghai has posted mediocre results in the past few years and finished a long way behind champions Guangzhou in 2011. It has some way to go if it wants catch up on and off the field as Guangzhou has been spending big for two seasons, last summer paying over $10 million for Argentine star Dario Conca.
Unlike Shanghai, whose owner Zhu Jun made his millions in online gaming, Guangzhou and most other Chinese clubs are backed by real estate companies.
The Chinese property market has been the scene of some serious growth over the years, but there are signs that things aren’t as healthy as they could be.
That reality is, of course, not on the minds of fans at the moment, who are looking forward to the 2012 season, which is set to start in March. It’s going to be the most eagerly awaited kick-off since professional football started in the country.
And it’s not just Guangzhou and Shanghai spending – the likes of Beijing, Tianjin, Dalian and Shandong are all expected to splash the cash around over the next couple of months.
What it all means for the long-term future of Chinese football is unclear. There’s certainly no guarantee that spending money on international stars will help the game in the long-term. But for the short-term at least, failing to qualify for 2014 doesn’t seem quite as depressing for fans in China at the moment as it did just a couple of weeks ago.