The chickens appear to have come home to roost for the Chinese government following the announcement that current CSL champions Jiangsu FC have gone out of business just 3-months after winning the top division title for the first time in their history. This news has sent shockwaves through the world of football, despite the fact that Jiangsu FC are the 16th club to fold in the space of a year throughout China's top three divisions, and more are expected to follow.
There has been a mass exodus of foreign players and even managers from the CSL over the last year or so, as clubs attempted to radically reduce their wage budgets and while the global pandemic hasn't helped the club's owners, this self-destruction had been expected by many in the know. Carlos Tevez is the biggest example of the overspending that CSL clubs have been making on a regular basis since the government announced that they wanted the Chinese Super League to rivals western counterparts. Tevez, passed his best when he signed for Shanghai Shenhua. was reportedly on around £500k-a-week, more than Lionel Messi, and looked a shadow of his former self during his time in the CSL, a period he refers to as a ‘holiday'. The former Argentine international is now back at his boyhood club Boca Junior earning nowhere near the fortunes he was on at Shanghai Shenhua, but you can't really blame him or any of the other stars for indulging in the CSL during a period of crazy spending that saw players moving to Chinese clubs ahead of some of the biggest names in English football.
Daring to Dream
The power appeared to be shifting towards the Chinese Super League when their clubs were starting to compete and beat Premier League clubs to the signing of star players. In 2016, Brazil's Alex Teixeira had been tipped to make the move to Liverpool from Shakhtar Donetsk but he decided to join Jiangsu Suning for £24.6m instead, signing a 4-year deal that was reportedly worth over £43m. Teixeira was one of the foreign imports that recently left China following the end of his contract and is now in talks with Al Hilal over another lucrative deal in the Middle East, so it's nice to know he will come out of this ordeal with bulging pockets even if the clubs don't.
As late as 2019, a deal was in the pipelines to bring Gareth Bale to the CSL which would have blown Tevez's wages right out of the water, but luckily for all those involved that never materialised into anything concrete. Many clubs like Suning have been searching for investment to help the club keep going but it has been revealed that Tianjin Tigers will follow in the footsteps of Jiangsu FC as they have failed to pay their players for 10-months and are expected to go under barring a late miracle. The likes of Ramires, Jackson Martinez, Oscar, Hulk, Marko Arnautovic, Paulinho and Marouane Fellaini all chose to leave big European clubs that were challenging for major trophies for a huge payday in China and now one by one they are all returning to European clubs having lost some important years of their careers which might not feel lost due to the money they have made but in the future, there will surely be some regrets that they weren't winning major trophies.
All of these major signings, at the time, made the CSL look like it was actually going to rival the likes of the Premier League, Serie A and La Liga but those in the know had a feeling that it simply wasn't sustainable. Most of these Chinese clubs had never had millions to spend on transfer fees and wages let alone the billions they suddenly appeared to have. When you make that step up to being a big-spending club you still have to work within your means but that never seemed to apply in the CSL.
The Knock-on Effect
The current situation involving the CSL clubs is slowly being felt in Europe too, as there are a number of clubs that have Chinese investors that might need to reduce their spending all of a sudden. The biggest name to possibly be affected is Inter Milan who are also owned by the man who ran Jiangsu FC. Sunning's decision to pull out of Jiangsu and the fact that his broadcast company has ended their contract to air Premier League matches have had a major financial impact around the world, and Inter Milan fans must be worried about the possible effect it could have on their club who are currently chasing their first Serie A title in over a decade.
West Brom and Wolves both have Chinese investment and will be keeping a sharp eye on proceedings in China and at Inter Milan. Wolves' owners have already made some cutbacks to the proposed redevelopment of Molineux but have continued to invest elsewhere in the club. Inter are said to be looking for further investment outside of Sunning and if they don't find it soon then we could see the Serie A giants sell-off some of their most talented players over the next couple of transfer windows.
Clearly, the ongoing situation in China is having an effect on football around the world but once they get through the rough period, there could be some genuinely good things that form following this disaster. Even with all the spending, the one thing China failed to do was improve their national team to a level that could compete at major international tournaments. With the CSL clubs forced to sign and develop more of their own local players, the national team will surely feel the benefit in the years to come, as relying on foreign imports to raise your own player's natural game simply wasn't working. A country the size of China should have appeared in more than one World Cup in its lifetime and really, they should be challenging for major honours just as they do at the Olympics. This process will take time and patients but the end result will be well worth it, so perhaps the collapse of the CSL as we know isn't such a bad thing after all.