Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Football's New Eastern Promise

Carlos Tevez
The football war is on with the news this week that Cristiano Ronaldo has turned down a €300 million transfer offer to play football in the China Super League. It seems the Real Madrid striker could be the next name on a list that has already claimed Carlos Tevez from his boyhood club Boca Juniors in Argentina to sign for Shanghai Shenhua. The Brazilian star Oscar, albeit in the twilight of a glittering career, who is also moving for a €420,000 per week deal. These developments no doubt sending shivers through the Premier League so very accustomed to bringing stars from abroad to England for what have been to date record breaking wages.

Throughout Europe the feeling will be the same as club presidents contemplate the fees that could be earned from selling, not only key assets, but unloading peripheral ones on lengthy and unaffordable deals. In a sport constantly seeking more cash to run expensive operations the new China option clearly will make 2017 a very happy new year for many. Which already impacted on Liverpool a year ago, when they missed out on Brazilian Alex Teixeira. However, Juergen Klopp believes clubs like Liverpool still carry lustre for those whose priority is football over wages. But he may very well being walking alone with that assessment when he explained: “Nobody has to leave Liverpool because of money,” said Klopp. “Maybe there are a few clubs in world football who can play better and if you can go there, these few clubs, yes then do it. But for all the rest this should be the best place to be.”

A touch of wishful thinking no doubt.

Given that the Premier League has just established its global value thanks to the generosity of Sky Sports and BT Sport which to date has allowed many clubs claim overseas players with their loosened cheque books. And indeed, big name managers. No different to what the Italian league did decades ago. Or La Liga in Spain where FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have hired nothing but big names on record breaking fees over the years. And still do with Lionel Messi Sergio Aguero, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Neymar all enrolled in Spanish football for many years. So, the China influence will cause concerns in a game that is driven by agents for the most part, all of whom will now be seeking eastern clubs for more of their assets. The fees quoted this week make the Paul Pogba move to Manchester United paltry.

Although the traditionalists will baulk at the thought of having to watch games on TV at three am to see some of their favourite stars. The stark commercial truth is that it will all be streamlined should the European audience be of value. However, with the population in China western viewership and their sleeping habits will be of little concern. But having been accustomed to seeing the big names every Saturday on a Match of the Day, live or indeed during Champions league clashes these audiences will fade if the bigger names and younger starts chose to move east. In Europe, Real Madrid could see their big names become very attractive also. Albeit Gareth Bale has just extended his deal for another few years with an official buy-out clause at €1bn – as a deterrent. Not a problem if any Chinese club fancied him in their roster.

The names also include managers; with Luiz Felipe Scolari joining Guangzhou Evergrande; former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson now with Shanghai SIPG and Dan Petrescu manages Jiangsu Guoxin Sainty. Just to mention a few.  Unlike the MLS, or indeed its previous iterations, the USA is no longer the automatic graveyard choice for retiring names. Or those seeking a juicy pension as China is attracting a younger age demographic that the US was never able to achieve. The dangers for the Premier League are obvious.

In 2016 Premier League clubs started to share the £5.136 billion from Sky Sports who broke the bank to retain most the UK television rights. A massive increase for the 2016-2019 rights from the outgoing deal of £3.018bn deal and could not have factored the impact of the China money that is already making senior professionals to start looking east. Not only for the twilight years but for their last major deal. Undoubtedly the flights to China are chocker with hungry agents, would be agents and the football cognoscenti chasing these life changing financial rewards. It could not come at a worse time for the Premier league already facing the wider uncertainty of Brexit and freedom of movement in the EU.

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