In what might be seen by some as an annoyance, an extravagance or downright cheek, the latest goings on in the football world have prompted me out of a self-imposed blogging hibernation to write a somewhat rambling, possibly ill-informed and definitely not prize-worthy piece about the weirdest aspect of this January’s transfer window.
We’ve all become accustomed, over recent years, to certain leagues in certain parts of the world becoming ‘in-vogue’ for players at a certain point in their career (yes, when they’re past it, basically – but I was trying not to say that). There are many examples, of course. Following David Beckham’s transfer to LA Galaxy in what turned out not to be the twilight of his career in 2007, many have followed, finding a comfy retirement home set up in the MLS. Following Beckham to Galaxy were the likes of Robbie Keane and, more recently Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole, while Frank Lampard, Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and David Villa have helped set up a kind of Man-City-but-with-wrinkles at New York City FC.
Elsewhere, and going back a bit, the Arab sovereignties were, and still are, at attractive option for the already-wealthy European footballer looking to basically line his pockets with pure oil. One of my all-time faves, Gabriel Batistuta, was among the first to do this, swapping Inter for Al-Arabi in Qatar, bagging 25 goals and roughly £8 million quid in two years. Fabio Cannavaro, a World Cup and Balon D’Or winner in his time, lest we forget, played 16 games for Al-Ahli in the United Arab Emirates and was handsomely rewarded for relatively little output, suggesting there’s a lot more going on behind that dazzling Italian smile than his pundit work for the BBC at the most recent World Cup would have you believe. Just ask Martin O’Neill.
Australia, of course, has had it’s share of football-has-beens invade its’ shores. From Dwight Yorke way back when, to the slightly more respectable Alessandro Del Piero, it became a sort of MLS-Lite but seems to be fading as quickly as Gary Neville’s managerial career. Then there’s the debacle that was the Indian Premier League Soccer franchise. Players such as our man Fabio, Hernan Crespo and…. erm….. Robbie Fowler…. were auctioned off to teams for the season-that-never-was. But the less said about that the better.
What’s my point, you might be asking? My point is that this January has seen some suggestion that there is a new footballing superpower on the rise, and they’re not just taking in the oldies. They’re nabbing players in their prime, throwing money at European clubs (and their assets) to make Bangkok as enticing a playing destination as Barcelona. Who am I talking about, exactly? CHINA, of course.
Prior to this January transfer window, China hadn’t really figured hugely in my mind. In footballing terms, China made me think of only two things. The first is Paul Gascoigne’s 4-game stint at second-tier Gansu Tianma, which was ended prematurely due to his well-documented personal problems at the time. The second, (and this may reveal a bit more about my footballing persuasions than I would wish it to) was the ill-fated appearance of former China captain Du Wei for Celtic in a Scottish Cup tie to minnows Clyde FC. In a match Celtic were heavy favourites for, Du Wei was hauled off at half-time and sent packing back to Shanghai after the Glasgow club conspired to lose the game 2-1. It was also the match in which a certain Mr Roy Keane made his debut north of the border. Just saying.
These two brushes with Chinese football, however, have become irrelevant, given recent events. It’s been clear for some years that there’s decent amount of yuan floating about in the footballing circles of China, given luminaries such as Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba have seen fit to call the Far East country their home in recent years. Their influence, moreover, has been felt on the shores of Europe too, with the likes of Vincent Tan taking ownership of Cardiff City and immediately changing their kit colour to red for luck, a decision he’s since had to revert after it didn’t exactly have the desired effect. Peter Lim isn’t having much better luck in his pursuit of footballing glory being, as he is, the major shareholder at both Valencia and, well, Salford FC….. but we’ll see how it goes!
But none of these events could have prepared us for two of the biggest shocks and biggest value transfers of the January window – namely that of Jackson Martinez to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao and Alex Teixeira to Jiangsu Suning for a combined total of roughly £70 million. One was a star of 2014’s World Cup in Brazil for his native Columbia, leaving an Atletico Mardid side vying for the title in La Liga, while the other is one of the hottest properties in world football, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk and the advances of Liverpool behind to join up with former Chelsea workhorse Ramires at Jiangsu.
These particular signings show intent on the part of the Chinese Super league to be taken seriously in a way that none of the previous examples have been. It seems a lot of their clubs have received heavy investment in recent years and have money to burn. And in an age where money is the ever-increasing force behind the sport, don’t be surprised if China soon becomes one of the main attractions for the world’s best footballing talent. Martinez and Texeira have seen fit to spend arguably some of their ‘peak’ years in the Far East, something that has never been the case yet in the MLS, Australia or the Arab states. OK, Sebastian Giovinco, I heard you. But you’re the exception, OK?
Whether this Chinese revolution signals the way in which football is going, or it turns out to be a short-lived flash in the wok (sorry), what’s clear is that the European big boys need to sit up and take notice. Advances from China pose a real threat to their dominance of the footballing sphere and, in the very short term, at least, don’t be surprised if more moves are in the works. With the January transfer window now closed, China have until the end of February to lure even more of Europe’s finest and I, for one, can’t wait to see who’s next.