The Chinese Super League is a threat to the English Premier League. Good!

5 months ago Ricardo Hylton 0

We’ve all been there: the teenager with more spots than a Dalmatian. Or maybe you just wouldn’t grow tall enough, popular enough, blonde enough, well to do enough, or heck just not smart enough. Face it, you just didn’t have enough style, snazz or oomph. Then year 20 came. Your posture straightened. Clear skin and all that time in mummy’s basement is about to get its very own IPO on the NYSE. Things done changed. All those six-packed, smart alecks now bow at your golden statuesque feet.

You Came Up!

Hello, you are The English Premier League and your teens were in the 1980’s and 1990’s. You’ve done it. Now you have a choice. How to deal with those bullies, your new friends and more importantly, all those people buying your shares on stock exchanges around the world. Do this right and your popularity and wealth is forevermore. Do it wrong and you’re merely delaying your inevitable doom.

 

Newsflash. You did it the wrong way.

You instituted a Saturday 3:00 PM blackout of live games in the UK. This was fine early on (that is, back in the 1990s) but today we are forced to watch Paul Merson shout Jeff, tell us what’s happening in the game we pay for while you collect even more cash from Thailand and America and show them all the games live.

You got a new rival in BT Sport. Rather than split the cost between revenue by charging the consumer less, you decide to charge astronomical fees from Pubs and reduce our fee by a mere £5 while BT charges £a lot more for the same games.

Along with the clubs, you make the game unaffordable for people on average incomes. More than anything Sky has taken the game from working Britain. Just as the game is increasingly being taken away from those under the age of thirty, it is also being taken away from the community. When you cater for tourists rather than local supporters, is it any wonder the ground is silent apart from the noise of a thousand pictures being taken for Facebook and Instagram?

You linked the disease of gambling ever closer to the sport of football. They are now joined at the hip like Siamese twins.

 

The Italian league with their Juventus and AC Milan and Inter Milan and Fiorentina and Lazio were king. They signed any and every one: Ronaldo (the real one), Veron, Batistuta, Zidane, Zanetti, Cafu, Baggio, Del Piero, Boban, Maldini, Desailly, Baresi, Van Basten, Savicevic, Gullit. It was a time when the cream of the European crop featured every weekend on terrestrial TV in the UK. It might seem unthinkable now that the best player in the world at the peak of his powers should leave Barcelona to play for an Italian side, but in 1997 that’s exactly what happened when Ronaldo (the original) moved to Inter Milan. And yes, he did it for the money.

 

When you get rich, will you remember what it was like to be poor?

Then the Premier League got rich and the great Spanish, Italians, Brazilians and Argentine players started coming here.

Now in 2017, elite footballers are being tempted away from the Premier League by the nouve riche Chinese and all I here from the sky studios and the great British press is that players who leave have no ambition. How can anyone leave the Premier League to go play in a league with no history?

One incredulous pundit asked, ‘why did Oscar lose his passion’ and I have the answer. Chelsea’s Oscar never lost his passion because did not have it in the first place. He played the way I do my job: dispassionately and for an income and he is far from alone in the world of football. Isn’t this why English footballers never go abroad? It’s a simple cost-benefit equation with money at its heart.

 

Western Hypocrisy

It was quite a defining moment for Chinese president Xi Jinping. On the final day of his state visit to the United Kingdom at the National Football Museum in Manchester, Mr Xi proudly presented to his hosts a well-crafted prototype of Cuju – the ancient ball game which originated in China over 2300 years ago and which is believed to represent the earliest form of football.

Mr Xi’s visit in October 2015 made the front pages of many national and local newspapers as he mingled with political and footballing heavyweights – taking a selfie with then UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero – and was granted a tour of the Etihad Stadium. Later he would meet with former City star Sun Jihai, a Chinese trailblazer who was just being inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.

Little more than a year after this gratifying charm offensive, Mr Xi could never have anticipated the hostility and torrent of abuse that has been directed at Chinese football, or to be more precise, the Chinese Super League (CSL) from Europe and, particularly, England.

This hostility reached its zenith this January following the much-hyped transfers of Oscar (for a transfer fee of £52 million), Axel Witsel and Carlos Tevez to the CSL (the former pair for a combined salary of £36 million-a-year, and the latter becoming the best paid footballer in history). The players were denounced as greedy millionaires selling their souls, while China was painted as the all-powerful, evil empire threatening the purity of the beautiful game England claim to have invented.

It is true that some pitches in the CSL are sub-standard but they are far from being terrible, and indeed many clubs are equipped with ultra-modern training facilities which have received rave reviews from several imported superstars. As for the fan engagement, official figures show that CSL attendances surged to a record high last season. The 240 games of the 2016 season drew a total of 5.8 million fans with an average gate of 24,159 per game.

These numbers put the CSL fifth in the table of the most attended football leagues in the world, according to the data collected by worldfootball.net, above Italy’s Serie A, France’s Ligue 1 and the MLS. The most followed team in the CSL remains the reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande, with an average of 44,883 supporters per home match last term.

Sure, China still has a long way to go and its financial muscle alone is not enough to buy footballing success for a whole nation. Sure, it is easy to denigrate Oscar, Witsel and Tevez as money-grabbers, willing to trade their ambitions and reputations in return for a fat paycheck.

But the hard truth and irony is that those who crucify the unashamed CSL the most for hoarding greedy footballers are the same bystanders whose own league did the same thing less than two decades ago. Who remembers the lavish salaries the Premier League splashed out for ageing veterans such as Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli from the then best league in the world, Serie A?

These are the same bystanders who sponsored the commercialization and globalisation of their own football. Their grievances would be far more legitimate if they admitted that they just feel threatened that Europe and the Premier League’s hegemony could come under threat.

“I am glad that the Chinese have arrived, now the biggest European clubs are getting a bit scared. And they should be because now there is someone richer than them on the market,” scoffed former Croatia and Chelsea star Mario Stanic to Sportske novosti.

“I read how Antonio Conte ‘cried’ that Chinese clubs are being unfair because they ‘kidnap’ players with money. Why didn’t he say this when his Juventus or Chelsea teams were ‘kidnapping’ players from smaller clubs.”

“So it is okay for Juventus or Chelsea, but when Chinese clubs throw money on the table, then it is ‘robbery’?! No one has the right to criticize players that decide to move to China, they [the English] are hypocrites.”

And these hypocrites must accept that there is no guarantee that Europe will be the football epicentre of the world in another two generations as China’s economic and footballing resurgence continues. If the tide eventually turns in favour of China, ‘The Home of Football’ will not be the only title the Middle Kingdom snatched from the empire “upon which the sun never sets”.

 

I used to struggle, so now I “over-shine.”

The vociferous response to Oscar (or Hulk, Pelle) had me seething. Full disclosure, I’m as much a socialist as the next man or woman. Equality, fairness and balking at greed being a signed creed. The disgust from to Oscar’s decision is laughable: saying he did it for money. Of course he did, the way most of us make these decisions daily, crisscrossing from job to job in a way people didn’t do, for example in the 1950s. They had less choice then. It’s Gordon Gekko’s world now.

Perhaps I’m clouded, being from a favela in Jamaica like the one Oscar probably hails from in Brazil. Poverty does weird things to you. Forget about being remembered as a great footballer or whatever field you choose. People from these places first and foremost regard ‘survival’ first. Before I get the backlash, survival here refers to the human instinct to never ever ever ever go back to whence one came, especially when where you rose from is a rat infested slum. It haunts you like a bad dream. And that £150 grand a week is rather less after her majesty revenue services raids it; everyday living expenses, family commitments, etc. As an immigrant in the U.K., this invisible alien can tell you that the demands from your family and friends back home can be emotionally and financially onerous.

It reminds me of people in the first world talking about climate change. Yes it’s bad, and yes it seems humans are at least partly responsible and it leads to governments in the rich West saying we should drive less, for example, to clean up the air. But when you’re a Chinese peasant, a Jamaican ghetto dweller, or Brazilian from the favelas whose spent half a lifetime dreaming about one day sitting in the soft leather of a poisonous, pollution spewing mini van, then who gives a toss about climate change, right? Quite hypocritical when Europe and America continued for decades to emit their dirty fumes in the name of prosperity.

First World Problem

So the fury around Oscar or potentially Diego Coasta’s transfer is a first world problem. Only people living in fairly rich countries could have a problem with a move to further his financial future because their idea of real haunting need is several rungs below what he, Hulk, Jackson Martinez and others like them have probably experienced. After all, most South Americans didn’t move to Europe for the weather, food or the current distaste for immigrants of all sorts. They came for the money and will also leave in pursuit of it. I am fairly sure most Brazilian, Argentinian Portuguese and Spanish players did not grow up dreaming to one-day ply their trade for Manchester City or Chelsea. They came to Europe, like Hedge fund managers from New York and teachers from Africa, to earn a living.

More importantly, the Premier League is like a man that got rich, who gave up on the gym, then got fat on delicacies thinking women will love him anyway. The Premier League and Sky has long stopped caring about the fans. A little competition may just jolt that conscience back into place. Just maybe subscription fees will fall as demand drops; just maybe clubs, who have been injected with loads of cash and who no longer depend on gate receipts for their health, will reduce ticket prices and no longer be museums for rich tourists to visit; and maybe, just maybe a business model that forces people that want to watch football and football alone, to subsidize the rest of Sky’s viewing will reform to allow football fans to purchase just that: football. If they don’t, the Internet and my new open box that allows me to watch Sky for free will become a permanent fixture.