China’s football championship is the Chinese Super League, a name given in 2004 after changes to what was previously called the Jia A League, set up ten years before – in 1994 – by the Chinese Football Association.
The current champions are Guangzhou Evergrande (Guǎngzhōu Héngdà 广州恒大), the first city team to be founded in China. But it was only from 2010 that Guangzhou started its great rise in the Chinese championship. It is no coincidence that it has won all six championships in the last six years, and is considered one of the most promising teams from an international viewpoint, having twice won the Asian Champions League.
It is curious to note that Guangzhou’s victories are concentrated in the last six seasons, and that this period corresponds to a series of non-Chinese coaches. And even more curious is the fact that also most of the other teams in the Chinese Super League have chosen in recent years to back foreign coaches. In fact there are only three clubs – among those that will take part in the next edition of the Chinese Super League (starting today – 3 March 2017 – with the first match of the season between Guizhou Zhicheng and Liaoning Panjin) – which have been entrusted to Chinese coaches: Henan Jianye, Liaoning Panjin and Guizhou Zhicheng (the latter promoted this year from China League One).
However, the great innovation this year will be Tianjin Quanjian, promoted for the first time to the Chinese Super League under the astute leadership of the Italian world champion Fabio Cannavaro. Recently, we have heard a lot of talk about this club, due to Cannavaro’s pressing to ask a number of players to come to the newly promoted Chinese club. Names such as Kalinic (Florence), Belotti (Turin) or Giovinco (Toronto). The Italian coach’s offer has been accepted by Alexandre Pato and Axel Witsel, another player who has caused the Chinese club to be a topic of conversation in Italy since, in choosing to accept the Chinese offer (an offer which may reach almost 80 million euro over 4 years through the basic salary and bonuses), he ruined the plans of the Italian club Juventus FC.
It seems clear from the map that all the top division clubs are in east China, along the coast. This should not surprise us at all since these areas – those with the most favourable weather – were the starting point for the economic development of China in the 1990s, a factor which has also made them the richest parts of China.
Unlike other championships, the Chinese Super League does not start at the end of August or September but between February and March, therefore ending in November/December. As for other details, the championship works the same, with a system of home and away games involving all the participating teams (16) with a total of 30 games to be played by each team. At the end of each season the two lowest placed clubs are automatically relegated to the lower league (China League One) and the top two in the table of China League One are promoted to the Chinese Super League.
In addition, the three teams which at the end of the championship are in the top three places in the CSL table – together with the winner of the Chinese FA Cup – qualify for the following year’s AFC Champions League and, as is the case in Europe, if the winner of the Chinese FA Cup has already qualified thanks to its position in the table, the fourth placed team in the championship qualifies for the Champions League.