Shandong Luneng Taishan, a Chinese Super League (CSL) soccer club, recently signed a two-year contract with former Real Madrid and Barcelona coach Radomir Antic.
A new round of CSL “arms race” has started at the end of the year. Guangzhou Evergrande and Guizhou Renhe have both signed world-class players at sky-high transfer fees, and other clubs are eager to follow suit.
At the same time, foreign stars such as Darío Leonardo Conca, Nicolas Anelka, and Didier Drogba, who joined the CSL last year in a high-profile manner and were cheerfully greeted by Chinese fans and media outlets, are in talks with their clubs to cancel their contracts and leave less than a year or six months after arriving in China.
It is not because they are not paid enough. Conca is the world’s 43th highest-paid soccer player with an annual salary of 7 million U.S. dollars, Anelka ranks fourth in the world with an annual salary of 10.6 million euros, and Drogba, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, ranks third with an annual salary of 12 million euros. However, they cannot realize their value in the low-level and semi-professional CSL.
The embarrassing fact that Chinese clubs can afford to sign foreign soccer stars but cannot keep them shows that money is not everything in soccer. Chinese real estate developers and bosses of state-owned enterprises may spend heavily on their CSL teams, but it would be wishful thinking to expect to change the domestic soccer landscape simply through loads of money.
Extravagance seems to be the main characteristic of the CSL in the 2012 season as 16 clubs in the league have invested a total of 3 billion yuan this year. While most other clubs have spent money like water, Jiangsu Sainty has become the most successful CSL club thanks to its low input and high output.
It pocketed six awards at the 2012 CSL awards ceremony, including the Top Scorer Award, Top Player Award, Top Goalkeeper Award, Top Coach Award, Most Popular Team Award, and Fair Competition Award, more than any other club did.
Jiangsu Sainty’s secret of success is using right players and right tactics without bringing in bit-time players or coach. The media-shy team ranks second in the CSL in this season, with an output-input ratio of nearly 139 percent, higher than that of any other CSL team.
It is normal market behavior to bring in world-class players and coaches, who can improve the level and attractiveness of domestic leagues. However, the Chinese soccer market remains immature, and soccer is not a profitable business in China.
Although such news can attract great media and public attention in the short term, capital will inevitably leave once advertising effects weaken or disappear. Furthermore, clubs and the league will suffer heavy losses if they cannot recover huge investments on foreign stars in a timely fashion.
The foundation of domestic soccer leagues lies in the cultivation of young reserve players. CSL clubs should have shouldered the responsibility, but they have paid too much attention to the performance of the first team and failed to attach enough importance to the cultivation of young reserve players.
Few of the CSL and China League One clubs have a complete four-level or five-level talent training system. Even Guangzhou Evergrande, the most extravagant soccer club in China, has almost completely neglected the training of young reserve players, and its so-called 10,000-people soccer school is in name only.
Behind CSL clubs’ extravagant “arms race” in recent years is their excessive reliance on foreign players and lack of young reserve players. Their short-sightedness has not only hindered the development of the CSL, but also created the biggest crisis facing Chinese soccer.
Read the Chinese version: 中国足球，请得起大牌却留不住大牌
Source:China Youth, author: Liu Daocai.
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