“I have great respect for Juventus…..but I eventually chose to go to Tianjin. It was not an easy decision. I do not lie; the economic aspect of the deal was an important factor in my decision to go to China,”. This is what Alex Witsel said after moving from Zenit St. Petersburg ( Russia ) to Tianjin Teda ( China ). Alex Witsel is 28 years old – a player in his prime years but declined a move to Juventus – one of the biggest club sides in Europe – to move to China majorly for the reasons of money.
In recent transfer windows China has seemingly come out of nowhere with big transfer moves for well-known internationals – the likes of Hulk, Oscar, Tevez, Ramieries and Jon Obi-Mikel and this growth shows no signs of waning. In 2015 the Chinese League received £7 million for TV rights. For 2017 it’s set to be around £250 million – little bit of a difference in those numbers!
But why are these players being lambasted by all forms of media and fans? A quick Google search for “reasons to move jobs” and you will see money come up time and time again. Yet if a footballer moves for money it’s wrong?
Luis Enrique, head coach of Barcelona, said that “In every profession, including yours — the press, people change jobs and earn more money and nothing is said, in fact, your friends congratulate you. It’s great, but when you are a footballer? You’re a traitor, a money grabber… It’s strange.”
And I must agree with him.
Another critique leveled at this heavy investment by China though, which I feel is unique to football, is professional development. It’s argued that moving to China is in effect a way of saying goodbye to your career. The Chinese League ( at least for now ) isn’t known for its quality and for a player it’s imperative ( particularly with the effect it has on their international career ) to be playing in a league that matches their quality.
Dutch International footballer Arjen Robben when asked about the Chinese League said “A transfer to China would be something else entirely. That is basically acknowledging your career is over”. But again it raises the question of money and it’s importance – they say money talks and I think that’s evident – particularly in football where some of the recent powerhouses are down to huge financial investments – you only need to look at RB Leipzeg for this.
However these were investments into specific clubs – this is an investment by the Country. President Xi Jinping drew a 10-year plan in 2015 taking inspiration from when the USA hosted the World Cup in 1994– and it changed the face of football for that country. President Jinping wants to see that for his own country with lofty ambitions of China qualifying, hosting and potentially winning the world cup within the next 15 years.
At the time of writing China are ranked as the 81st best team in the World so there is a long way to go. But what’s wrong with ambition? And a desire to be the best. I say very little and in the world of soccer which involves ludicrous amounts of money and is, in this modern world, mainly about the entertainment side of things, why not try and be a powerhouse by flexing financial money?
Who knows if it will work and whether the investment will pay off. It’s a matter of time and perhaps it will fail miserly and China will be no closer to the World Cup then they have been before. But I think their ambition should be appreciated and commended.
The automatic assumption of a player moving to China is for financial reasons which, in most cases is correct but I wouldn’t be too quick to judge and deride them as I think most would do the very same thing.