The Oriental Express – arriving ahead of schedule.

by James Prentice

Monday, December 19th, 2011
 

NICOLAS Anelka’s departure from Chelsea to Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua got me thinking: how far the game has evolved in the world’s most populous Country?

Ever since the formation of China’s top flight division in 1994 and its subsequent re-branding 10 years later (From the Jia-A League to the Chinese Super League), the far-east nation has pumped vast sums of money into its Football Association and the results of this are now beginning to show. The Chinese Super League is a fast-growing franchise.

The sport is rapidly growing into a financial enterprise in its own right, attracting the investment of major Corporations and in turn, attracting scores of foreign football talent due to the relatively high salaries enjoyed by Professional Footballers in China.

Since 2004, over 400 foreign players have applied their trade in the Super League, a statistic that looks set to accelerate further with news of Shanghai Shenhua’s cash-splashing acquisition of world-renowned French forward Nicolas Anelka from Chelsea earlier this week. Anelka signed a 2-year contract and a deal rumoured to be worth £175,000 per week.

Shanghai ShenWHO? I hear you ask.

In 2007, Zhu Jun, a Chinese businessman, bought a majority share of Shenhua and began to merge them with a rivalling local team, Shanghai United F.C. Since then, Jun has helped establish the Shanghai club as a force in the division, despite finishing 11thlast season.

His most lasting impact will most likely be found off the pitch, however. On 1stJanuary 2009, Shanghai Shenhua made Chinese football history by becoming the first team to hire a foreign C.E.O. with the arrival of former manager Osvaldo Gimenez. On 18 November 2009 it became a co-owner of the farm team of Athletico Madrid.

Speaking on the signing of Anelka, Zhu Jun said: ‘It’s like with the opening up of China,’ ‘we needed to bring in the good stuff from foreign countries for us to learn from.’

Dalian Aerbin F.C., a Chinese outfit founded as recently as 2009 are following suit when it comes to spending big. The newly promoted Super League side have reported offered Anelka’s team-mate Didier Drogba a three-year deal worth more than £200,000 a week.

The Clubs General Manager, Li Ming, confirmed the speculation, adding: “We are waiting for a response on the offer,” “money is not the problem.”

Dalian Aerbin F.C. and Shanghai Shenhua are just two examples of the finances that exist within the Chinese Super League.

Even though you’ll probably struggle to find a place to watch China’s league matches, my ‘player to watch’ out of the hundreds of imports in the Chinese Super League, is the Brazilian Luiz Guilherme da Conceição Silva, more commonly known as Muriqui. The winger, who possesses bags of pace, vision and finishing ability, has become a revelation since moving from his home country to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2010. During his time at Guangzhou, he has helped the club win their first ever first tier title with a so far impressive 29 goals in 40 appearances.

Here is a montage of Muriqui during his loan spell at Brazilian club Avaí in 2009. My pick is the goal on 00:25!

Whilst it’s definitely too early to tell European Football to watch it’s space, don’t be surprised if you hear more and more about the Chinese super league in the next few years.

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  • Simon Meechan

    These boys are of interest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chengdu_Blades_F.C.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but arn’t the Chinese national team performing awfully of late? Apparently Football is competing heavily with basketball in light of Yao Ming’s successes in the NBA.

  • James Prentice

    Yeah your right Simon. the national team have underperformed in the last couple of years, however i put that down to hasty decisions from the CFA.
    China have had 6 managers in the last 6 years!
    I’m sure they’ll learn from theyre mistakes one day however, their home fans have already started to make that very point. Also, with all the money being pumped into the game at all tiers, i’m quite positive they’ll get there act together sooner rather than later.

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