1. ITV Report

Football in China could be set for unrivalled growth as stars flock to Super League

Chinese football is on the up. Photo: Reuters

By Will Unwin

The world football landscape is changing before our eyes thanks to an influx of money, talent and fans to the game in China.

No more is the domestic league picking up veterans picking up a final payday or unknown Brazilians, the Chinese Super League is now signing up some of Europe's great talents.

In recent weeks Chelsea have sold Champions League winner Ramires to Jiangsu Suning for £25million, who quickly followed that by bringing in Liverpool target Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez has rocked up at Guangzhou Evergrande for just over £30million and Roma regular Gervinho is now at Hebei China Fortune.

Attendances are on the up in China. Credit: Reuters

Uncapped Brazilian Alex Teixeira will reportedly earn £9.6million a year, which is more than Barcelona star Neymar, as China show their financial muscle.

Managers in the league include Felipe Luiz Scolari, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Cannavaro, another sign of the draw China has to offer.

Scolari's arrival has helped the growth of the Chinese game in Asia, as the Brazilian has already led his Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao team to the Asian Champions League title, a competition traditionally dominated by Japanese and Saudi Arabian teams.

Chinese clubs are looking to compete with European giants. Credit: Reuters

The potential for the future is limitless for the Chinese Super League and football in the country thanks to the recent investment.

The scale of China's economy and the current appetite ‎for investment in sport present an unprecedented and unrivalled opportunity for the growth of football. Translating this investment into sustained high performance, both on and off the pitch, will determine China's standing in the global game over years to come.

– Richard Battle, Senior Consultant at Deloitte
Alex Teixeira has just moved to China. Credit: PA

Attendances are improving across China, with average of over 22,000 turning up for Super League games in 2015 - leaving it just behind Serie A and Ligue 1 in terms of popularity - a figure that will only increase in the years to come.

Beijing Gouan, who own Brazil international Renato Augusto, had 42,000 applications for their 27,000 season tickets - an indication of the growth of the sport.

In addition to those paying to go the games, there is also more television money being pumped into the sport after a $1.25billion Super League rights deal was agreed for the next five years.

You can’t take away the fact that money is the primary factor.

The football is improving all the time and they are very ambitious with the national team

– Sven Goran Eriksson on why players chose China
Sven Goran Eriksson is managing in China. Credit: PA

At the heart of the investment is the plan to make the national team a world force rather than creating a league of mercenaries.

Only three foreigners, plus one non-Chinese Asian, are allowed on the pitch for any team at one time and all goalkeepers must be Chinese.

Guangzhou Evergrande have built a brand new academy, described by former Real Madrid goalkeeper Manuel Angel as "The dimensions of the complex are unparalleled. No one else has developed a project of this magnitude."

Evergrande built a new soccer school. Credit: Reuters

The Chinese club were assisted by Real Madrid in the planning of the football school that houses 2,200 students and 22 Spanish coaches.

Guangzhou Evergrande owner Xu Jiayin told the Financial Times: "Our long-term strategy is to use teenagers to turn Evergrande into a team of only domestic players in eight to 10 years, making them stars in China, Asia and the world.”

The academy at Evergrande involved Real Madrid in its creation. Credit: Reuters

The overseas stars have put the Chinese Super League in the world football spotlight but the long-term strategy will ensure the sustainability of sport on the up in a country of unlimited potential.

With a fortnight still to go until the transfer window closes in China there's still time for more stars to make a big-money move but the proof of the country's success won't come before February 26, it will be when they start creating their own superstars.