Brazil 2014: (Almost) made in China

Dr Jing Shu

Posted: June 9, 2014

Tagged: BRICS / nations / players / teams

China’s football fans are extremely happy that, for the first time, Chinese football has actually won something. China was the first country in the world to contest a game as part of qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. This is nevertheless a bitterly ironic triumph as China failed (yet again) to make it to the World Cup finals. But China’s influence will still be felt in Brazil, with several players coming from Chinese football leagues. Leagues – plural? Yes!

As many as five foreign players who are currently playing in the China Football Association Super League (CSL) are likely to be present in Brazil. Zvjezdan Misimovic of Guizhou Renhe, is the captain of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team. Three Korean players from CSL are now in their national team squad, including Kim Young Gwon from Guangzhou Evergrande, holders of the AFC Champions League trophy; Park Jong-Woo from GuangZhou R&F; and Ha Dae-Sungfrom Beijing Guoan. In addition, Ryan McGowan from Shandong Luneng Taishan will play for Australia.

Surprisingly, a player from a secondary Chinese league – the Chinese First League – will also be presented at Brazil. Osman Danilo Chavez Guity, the 29-year-old defender of Qingdao Jonoon, will play for the República de Honduras in Brazil. As the first player from the club ever to play in the World Cup, Qingdao Jonoon held a special ceremony to celebrate Guity’s attendance at Brazil when China’s domestic league season ended.

That so many players from Chinese leagues will be at the World Cup in Brazil helps to illustrate the development of Chinese football. The founding of the CSL in 1994 symbolized the start of a reform process in Chinese professional football. For so long, this process was heavily criticised. However, with the international emergence of privately owned Guangzhou Evergrande, a challenge to the dominant government football model has been established.

Although Guangzhou Evergrande won the Asian Champions League in 2013, when the former richest person Chinese took over the club in 2010 the heavily indebted club was perilously close to relegation from the Chinese First League. It nevertheless only took Guangzhou Evergrande three years to progress from promotion to being Champions of Asia. Billions of Chinese Yuan was invested in the team and an academy, while Italian Marcello Lippi was recruited to coach Evergrande. Yet most importantly, the club invested in creating a formally structured and professional organisation.

By embracing the notion of professionalism, Evergrande has been able to distance itself from the disordered nature and political turmoil of Chinese football. Lots of cash and numerous talented foreign players and coaches are of course important, but how to optimally manage them is also an art – something that Chinese football administrators have been unable to grasp the importance of. So far so good, then, for Evergrande.

Evergrande has however been criticised by some people though, many stressing that short-term achievement has simply been bought. Moreover, the absence of a long-term strategic plan that aimed at sustaining competitive advantage is a problem. Some commentators are concerned too that the club continues to pose a dangerous threat to the current political system.

Still, we should ignore the fact that Evergrande has made a significant contribution to building a better international reputation for Chinese football. This can only be a good thing in helping to globalize and build the international success of football in China. Increasing numbers of high profile players and coaches are moving to China not only because the country is economically strong, but also because Chinese leagues, competitions and clubs are now run in a more professional way.

Indeed, it is obviously now the case that foreign players playing in China can still have the same opportunities to play for their countries in the World Cup as they would if they played in countries with stronger football heritages. From this moment onwards, we can say that China’s football leagues have finally been accepted by the global football community. This is a good result for the country, and a clear indication of success of the reforms Chinese football has implemented.

Whatever the speed of the reform from here, the Chinese football is indeed developing – although ‘Made in China’ still refers to foreign rather than Chinese players. But the new President of China is a huge fan of football, so we look forward to Russia 2018. Millions of people across the country look forward to the tournament in the hope that continuing reforms lead Chinese football on a successful road to Moscow.

About Dr Jing Shu

Jing Shu, is Senior Lecture at Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics (China, P. R.). He completed his PhD in Sport Management at Coventry University, UK. Dr. Shu is an expert in undertaking international co-operation in sport-related areas, and currently serves as the Project Manager of the EU funded FP7 project ‘SPORTBOUND’.