If it is true that football in recent years is increasingly moving towards the Orient, it is also true, however, that saying just the Orient or Asia would be slightly misleading: for some time now in this region the fulcrum for the development of Asian football has been China.
China, as we know, is expanding in every direction, drawing on the footballing strength of Europe and the rest of the world. An expansion which is bringing huge amounts of capital to western clubs, but could at the same time be dangerous, as it’s not controlled. The latest news speaks of a China which is happy to splash out to reach the major talents of the planet, starting with the huge offers for players such as Lavezzi or Tevez, up to unimaginable figures – such as the 100 million euro a year offer for an unmoved Cristiano Ronaldo.
Zheng Zhi (on the right), winner of the Globe Soccer Award 2016 for Best Chinese Player of the Year
Despite China trying to reduce the trend of Chinese offers abroad, making it illegitimate to buy more than five foreign players for each club, this does not seem to have lessened the hunger of Chinese football. Proving this are, for example, the huge offers made by Tianjin Quanjian, newly promoted to the Super League and coached by the Germany 2006 World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro, who does not seem to mind how much he spends to take his team to the top of the Chinese championship.
But perhaps everything that is happening today could have been foreseen. In fact it is from China that everything started in the projects of the Asian Football Confederation, which as from 2002 – with the launch of the development plan for football called Vision Asia – had put the country at the centre of its development programme. In presenting the project, the then AFC Secretary General, Peter Velappan, had noted that the AFC slogan was “The future of football is in Asia, and starts in China”.
Since then China has been considered as a fundamental part of the project for the development of football in Asia, since it is a country with enormous potential in terms of the watching public and fans, but also thanks to its young people who could grow up with football and for football. These are the very youngsters that we find underpinning the Chinese development project, since they are essential for the construction of solid bases on which to found an even more solid football system which is not a flash in the pan but becomes a tradition which lasts over time.
Marcello Lippi, coach of the Chinese National Team
While these bases are solidifying, we in the west, however, keep watching this unbridled growth and expansion that China started some time ago, buying foreign players who are among the best, and buying historic clubs which are among the most important. All with the primary aim of understanding the mechanisms of the top of the game, in order to join others once their own football players, coaches and directors have become really competitive.
China’s plan is decidedly ambitious, with the ultimate goal of bringing home the World Cup one day. Only time will tell if this development will go in the right direction or not. The fact remains that China is moving and that in the end, even if it does not succeed, no one will be able to say that they didn’t try.