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Why we should stop slating the Chinese Super League

Shane Burns writes about why fans of European football, especially those of the Premier League, should stop slating the players and administrators of the Chinese Super League.

The Chinese Super League is only emulating something that has previously been done. Early in the 1990’s with English football becoming a laughing stock in European football, England’s biggest clubs separated from the Football League to form the FA Carling Premiership.

For the majority of English football fans, the move has brought the English game to the forefront of the world footballing stage, and anyone stating the Chinese Super League is a money orientated league should look closer to home.

For many football fans looking upon the Chinese revolution, they should consider it remarkable and in fact, admire the plans and ambitions of the Chinese Super League. Long before the aspirations of the Chinese became a prominent figure in football; the English Premier League was cast in motion, and similarities between the two are much closer than previously believed.

In 1991, Serie A was the world’s strongest league boasting the greatest teams, the finest players, and most entertaining matches. In the meantime, English football had hit a new low with attendances and gate fees dropping. The importance of gate fees was a fundamental factor to how a football club was managed during that period with little to no television coverage providing teams with astronomical finances that are in the game currently.

Leeds United’s team at the time, in fact, earned on average £110,000 annually, and that was a side that would claim the last ever First Division title. In comparison, Chelsea’s wage bill during their title-winning campaign accumulated over £110million – and where did the money come from? Television.

In November 1991, the chairmen of Tottenham, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal all forced the hand of the Football League as they hoped to receive more money from television. The Football League was unwilling to provide television companies with any more coverage, so the group decided to split to form their very own league.

So February 20th 1992 witnessed the decision of clubs in the Football League First Division to break away from the Football League, which was founded in 1888, and take advantage of a lucrative television rights deal.

A similar story occurred in China in 2004, when the formation of a Chinese Super League was formed in the hope of bringing the wrong state of Chinese football to the forefront of the modern game. And that’s exactly what they are doing right now.

The league continues to grow and finally now the Chinese clubs are continentally achieving the success desired by the league’s investors. Guangzhou Evergrande have experienced the domestic success that once occurred in England with Manchester United as they sweep all before them. Not only is domestic success easily achieved these days by Guangzhou, as the club has now added the Asian Champions League to their trophy cabinet, and little is mentioned of their success. Why? Because they spent fortunes on players, coaches, and staff to achieve what they desired.

GUANGZHOU, CHINA – MAY 03: Mei Fang of Guangzhou Evergrande in action during the AFC Asian Champions League match between Guangzhou Evergrande FC and Sydney FC at Tianhe Stadium on May 3, 2016 in Guangzhou, China. (Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Is that different to Manchester United? The club that broke the British transfer record on no fewer than five occasions during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and little is said about how they spent to achieve success. Fast forward a few years and Chelsea and Manchester City also replicated the achievements of United.

Paying huge transfer fees aren’t unusual either. In 1995, Fabrizio Ravanellli won the Champions League with Juventus, when in the prime of his career he opted to swap Turin for Tyneside just one year later when he controversially moved to newly promoted Middlesbrough.

An even bigger success story followed seven years later when Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich made Chelsea the richest team on the planet. Substantial fees were thrown at players, enormous wages handed out for virtually nothing – but Chelsea achieved success.

Now in China, the same process is being replicated by newly promoted Tianjin who look to have signed Axel Witsel from under the noses of Juventus. Mid-table sides such as Shanghai Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG are forking out enormous salaries and transfer fees to players in the hope of emulating the successes of once mid-table teams such as Chelsea and Manchester City.

In fact, the wages in England have risen beyond belief. Following the signing of Ravenelli in 1996, the Italian international earned a salary close to £30,000 a week – which was practically unheard of. That’s an annual wage of £1.56million before tax. Fifteen times the salary of the average Leeds United playing during the 1990-1991 season.

In comparison, the average player salary of the Chinese Super League was ¥10.7 million for the 2011 season, which is an up from ¥600,000 in the 2010 season. Now, with the enormous wages of Hulk, Oscar, Witsel, and Paulinho to name a few, the average player now earns £586,543 in November 2016.

Brazilian football player Oscar (C) receives flowers as he arrives at Shanghai airport on January 2, 2017.
Brazilian midfielder Oscar landed in Shanghai on January 2, 2017 where the 25-year-old was set to smash the Asian transfer record with a reported 63 million USD deal with Shanghai SIPG. / AFP / STR / China OUT (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

English football attempted to flex its financial muscles to guarantee their supremacy at the front of the world footballing stage in 1992. They achieved everything that was set out, and more, with fans embracing the experiences because of the television deal that followed suit.

Now the Chinese Super League is attempting to make Chinese football one of the big contenders in the world game, fans of Premier League teams are slating players for opting for big wages, and an easier lifestyle when the reality is it occurred to their club almost twenty-five years ago.

Before slating the Chinese, football supporters in England should look closer to home and consider  where their club may be without the enormous wages offered to players in the mid-1990’s.

Shane Burns

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