Once the home of Carlos Tevez, Oscar and even Gazza, China’s football revolution has come to a grinding halt
THERE’S a China crisis in football.
Harsh Covid restrictions and the country’s dawdling economy have seriously delayed president Xi Jinping’s planned revolution in the game.
AFP or licensorsCarlos Tevez spent a year playing in China for Shanghai Shenhua[/caption]
AFPOscar left Chelsea for China in 2017[/caption]
Chiefly, it is the pandemic and wage limitations that shook to bits the Xi dream plan.
This was for on-the-slide foreign players to receive spectacular rewards in heavily-funded teams to go with thousands of pitches to encourage the proletariat.
The fixation washed over league football here, too.
Because at one time, Aston Villa, Wolves, Birmingham City and West Brom all had multi-millionaire Chinese owners.
Villa were glad to get rid of theirs in 2019, Blues have been trying to for years.
Albion fans hate theirs, which leaves Wolves who have generally been well-treated by Fosun Group, whose interests vary from Covid vaccinations to Thomas Cook.
Professional football in the Middle East oil states is attracting mercenaries who previously would have turned to the Chinese Super League to help fill their bank accounts.
Paul Gascoigne in 2003 was a rarity.
He wanted somewhere to play.
Elsewhere, the draw of the yuan since 2004 was staggeringly high.
Oscar, the Brazilian formerly of Chelsea, and Carlos Tevez, briefly of West Ham, are two who paved their retirement with gold.
Oscar earned £550,000 a week while Tevez pocketed a ‘mere’ £400,000 a week.
Hundreds and hundreds of others from around the world joined the gold rush — no fewer than 232 from Brazil.
Then along came Covid…
In the country from which the pandemic was unleashed, its government reacted with a rigid lockdown for nearly three years.
Major clubs have closed and a cap of £3million a year was imposed on all earnings.
Although the Chinese Super League draws big crowds in the immensely populated cities, and most of its 16 clubs still feature foreigners, the standard is not particularly high.
And football lovers get their biggest kicks from Premier League viewing.
Their national team has qualified for the World Cup finals once in 40 years.
But Xi believes in sport as a binding communal activity — as any good Communist might.
And after goalless failure in 2002, his reaction was to create fresh pitches on a breathtaking scale of 600 times the 82 on Hackney Marshes.
Such political orders seldom work out and, sure enough, only about 3,000 have so far been laid.
And despite pictures showing lots of boys training in military fashion, plus a population of 1.4billion, China has not produced an international star.
Plainly, the production line is not functioning well and even more slowly since the Chinese claim to have invented football.
As hands and feet were used, it was more like rugby than football.
Finally, in the Middle Ages it was banned under the Ming (no relation to Tyrone) dynasty.
Xi is a fan of physical exercise for the masses.
An official state goal is for China to be the best team in Asia by 2030 and World Cup winners by 2050 — both of which are just about conceivable but not until attitudes change.
European coaches there say parents want their children to be, say, accountants or nuclear scientists and are suspicious of ball-kicking tempting them away from study.
Which explains why, crucially, about as many people as on Sunday mornings on Hackney Marshes actually play the game in their spare time.
Meanwhile, the kids they want to attract to play the game are among ultra-millions watching the Premier League on TV.
Gazza was a rare Brit to try China and not because he wanted to study nuclear fusion.
He stayed for two months and then legged it home.