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China – Football’s Next Superpower?

In a time when the Premier League is dominating the transfer market, a new player with enough financial clout to challenge England’s top division is slowly emerging. In this last transfer window, China has started to become a major player in the game with significant moves for players across Europe. During the month of January alone, Chinese clubs spent over $117million on new players signing up the likes of Ivorian midfielder Gervinho from Roma, Colombian forward Fredy Guarin from Inter plus Brazilian midfielder Ramires from Chelsea. They join an already stellar cast in the league including Stephane Mbia, Demba Ba, Diego Tardelli, Asamoah Gyan and Tim Cahill.

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Former Newcastle and Chelsea forward Demba Ba has settled well into the league (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

That figure has now grow by an additional $45million today with the news that current champions Guangzhou Evergrande have completed the record signing of Atletico Madrid’s Colombian hit man Jackson Martinez. The former Porto striker, who despite being prolific in Portugal has struggled in La Liga passed a medical and will join up with his new teammates later this week at their training camp in Doha. Guangzhou are managed by former Chelsea and Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari and currently have several other big name stars in their ranks including former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho and rising Brazilian star Ricardo Goulart. Former AC Milan and Real Madrid star Robinho was also in their ranks but has just been released and is now looking for a new club.

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Jackson Martinez swaps Spain for China in a league record breaking move (Image from Getty)

The league still may be a decade behind their European rivals in terms of quality throughout but the desire to improve the league and the willingness to spend whatever it takes to make that happen is there. Unlike other leagues like in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and now to a lesser extent the US, the focus of a majority of the transfers is to bring players in during their peak years and not after them. All of the major signings in the last window still have a lot to offer in their careers and have time in their side. Guarin and Martinez are 29 whilst Gervinho and Ramires a year younger at 28.  With the window still open for the Chinese League until the end of February, further transfers could go through with the likes of Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote and Atletico’s Fernando Torres top of the list.

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Ramires is another high profile arrival (Image from PA)

What is driving this spending is the explosive demand for soccer in the country. General attendances in the Chinese SuperLeague are growing year over year and advertising dollars are being pumped into the clubs as a result. Added into this the clubs have the backing of the Chinese FA who are encouraging clubs to invest in skillful foreign imports (primarily from Brazil) in the hope that those players will improve the quality of the product with the knock on effect being that it should improve the abilities of Chinese players. That ultimately is the end goal for the Chinese FA who have lofty ambitions – namely to qualify and then win the World Cup in the not so distant future. Its fair to say that currently China has little chance of doing so having failed to qualify for every World Cup bar one (South Korea/Japan 2002) and are struggling to reach the 2018 World cup in Russia. But progress has been made, at least in recognizing that to be successful means that the country has to invest in youth development and help to bring through the next generation of players. Delegates have travelled to Europe in the past to observe how youth academies like the one at Ajax are setup and run with the hopes of replicating that in China.

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The stars of tomorrow – China is investing heavily in youth development in order to be more competitive (Image from Getty)

Growth of the domestic game and improvements in youth development infrastructure can only benefit the Chinese Super League in the long term and with it boost China’s chances of being more competitive on the international stage. With an endless supply of money behind them and a talent pool that is larger than any other country in the world, it’s hard to bet against China from achieving its long-term goals and eventually lifting the World Cup.

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