Chelsea to China – how football is set for take off in the Far East

With a population of over 1.3 billion people and one of the strongest economies in the world, China should really be one of football’s global powerhouses.

The football-obsessed nation is seemingly making strides to further the sport, with the latest influx of foreign players to the Chinese Super League suggesting that the global game is set to take off in the Far East.

In the relatively recent past star names have been drawn to the financial gain and allure of moving to China, with the highest profile examples being Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba.

Guangzhou Evergrande also made talented but uncapped Argentine playmaker Darío Conca one of the world’s best-paid players to move to Asia in 2011.

However, looking at the latest spate of arrivals in the Chinese Super League, there is a different and more meaningful undertone.

While Drogba and Anelka were in the dying days of their careers when they moved to China, the latest crop to head East are in their prime.

Not many high-profile teams would have wanted the former Chelsea strike duo given their age, but some of the latest players to move to the CSL surely could have had their pick of top European clubs.

The move that really had people sitting up and taking notice was Jiangsu Suning’s capture of Alex Teixeira.

The Brazilian attacker was lighting up Ukrainian football and the Champions League as one of the latest of his countrymen to star for Shakhtar Donetsk, with rumblings of a switch to Real Madrid.

Liverpool were said to have had real ambitions of landing the sublimely talented attacker in the January transfer window but instead the 26-year-old opted to move East for a record Chinese transfer fee of €50 million.

He was soon joined by his compatriot Ramires, who got sick of time on the bench at Chelsea. However, instead of a move to Spain or Italy, the all-action midfielder is set to feature in China.

Star names, current internationals and a host of players in their pomp have all joined the Brazilian duo as part of the revelation.

Jackson Martínez added his name to the list of foreign stars not to work out at Atlético Madrid but instead of a touted move to England opted for China.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gervinho, Burak Yılmaz, Stéphane Mbia, Gaël Kakuta, Jô and Fredy Guarín have all followed suit.

Alex TeixeiraThese are not players past their best or unwanted by European clubs. Of the ten mentioned players, Lavezzi and Yılmaz are 30 with the rest younger.

Each Chinese Super League team is allowed to have five foreign players in their squad, with the rest made up of homegrown talent; naturally the locals are going to improve.

Distinguished overseas coaches such as Sven-Göran Eriksson, Alberto Zaccheroni and Mano Menezes have all ended up in the CSL also.

As such, the upcoming domestic campaign looks set to be the most high-profile in the history of football in China.

Looking at it objectively and with the national game in mind, China look destined to improve globally.

Currently ranked 93rd in the world, between Botswana and the Faroe Islands, there is clearly plenty of room for improvement.

However, the necessary infrastructure is being put into place to facilitate this, which suggests China can become more of a prominent player internationally.

President Xi Jinping last year released a 50-point plan to further football in the country, which included vast investment into the grassroots of the game.

Special soccer schools are also being developed, with the ambitious aim of creating 50,000 of these within a decade to create the next generation of talented homegrown stars.

Given that the nation has a football-mad population, an influx of foreign stars to raise the profile of the sport and an economy as buoyant as any in the world, the game looks set to finally take off in China in the next couple of years.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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