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COMPANIES • THE BUSINESS OF SPORTS


For love or money In Chinese soccer, cash and optimism abound B


arely over a year ago, China’s pro- fessional soccer league was virtu- ally unknown outside of the coun-


try and looked upon with considerable disdain by many of those within it. Plagued by match-fixing scandals


and a perceived low quality of play, the domestic league had struggled badly for years. Its inadequacy was mirrored by the national team. Te Chinese team qualified for the World Cup only once, in 2002, bowing out in the first round with- out scoring a goal. In short, Chinese soc- cer was going nowhere fast, and interest in the game in China was minimal. But a massive injection of cash into


the game has abruptly changed this. A slew of top players from European and South American clubs have joined teams in the Chinese Super League (CSL).


14 China Economic Review • November 2012 It all started in June 2011, when


Guangzhou Evergrande signed Argen- tine Dario Conca from Brazilian team Fluminense on a massive US$10 mil- lion-a-year deal, making him one of the highest-paid players in the world. Te 28-year-old midfielder had just won the Brazilian league player of the year two seasons in a row. No foreign player of this caliber had ever played in China before. Te signing did not attract much


attention from the soccer world as a whole – Conca was a talent, but he had never played outside South America – but it did raise the bar for the caliber of foreign players joining Chinese clubs. Shanghai Shenhua was next to join


Chinese soccer’s financial revolution, signing Nicolas Anelka, a high-profile


French forward from English Premier League team Chelsea, for a staggering US$300,000 per week. Ten this June, Shenhua captured a genuine world class super star, Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba. Suddenly Chinese clubs like Shang-


hai Shenhua and Guangzhou Evergrande were on the back pages of European newspapers, which had long completely ignored the game in China except to report on corruption or the lamentable performances of the national team. Why the sudden cash injection, they asked, and why did optimism suddenly abound in China?


Flush with cash


What most outlets failed to pick up on was that domestic soccer in China had


Imaginechina


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