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Buy our football jerseys please, China

Manchester City become the latest big European club to swing by China, as more fat cat chairmen attempt to stuff a slice of the lucrative East Asian football market pie in their already obese and money-obsessed faces. The English Premier League side take on Shanghai Shenhua on Friday night in the 2006 Shanghai International Football Tournament.

Last summer, everybody who was anyone in the glitzy world of European football embarked on an Asian tour, fuelled by club owners’ lust at the prospect of establishing their “brand” in seemingly-lucrative “markets” such as Japan, China, Malaysia and South Korea, who all have insatiable appetites for top-league Euro football. With their simplistic and ignorant “all we have to do is get the Chinese to like us then we can sell 1 billion replica shirts” approach, it was no wonder that the penny finally dropped for many fans, in China at least.

In the aftermath of the Real Madrid v Beijing Guo’an friendly last year, local supporters caught onto the fact that the Euro big-boys were, so-to-speak, “only here to drink the beer and shag your f**cking women”, as the well-known UK terrace footy chant goes.

Stuart Webb, chairman of this year’s tourney organizers IEP Sports and Leisure (IEP S&L) gets straight to the point: “… as football continues to boom around the world major clubs seek to participate in our ‘World Series’ and see it as a great opportunity to enhance their club brand particularly in the emerging markets of Asia.”

But, the tide has turned, as this excellent article on a South Korean news site explains. Still, Man City manager, Stuart “Psycho” Pearce, at least wants any potential new fans to get their arses over to Manchester rather than scour Shanghai looking for a fake City top to show their loyalty.

He told the club website: “If we can show people Manchester City in the Far East it can only be good for our Football Club and hopefully people can come over and watch us or follow us on the television.” Indeed, Psycho.

Shanghaiist thinks City are possibly fed up of their reputation that, unlike their illustrious rivals Man United, all of their fans live only in Manchester, (but this isn’t true if you believe this) and want to show they can attract just as many overseas fans who have never been to the UK as Man U can.

Of course, City’s main draw card in all this pre-season friendly business is Chinese international Sun Ji Hai, giving local fans a chance to see him in the sky blue of his club jersey rather than the red of China. Sadly, former England striker Andy Cole is injured and will not be joining him. Star players you may or may not see appearing for City include England internationals David James and Darius Vassell, German national team player Dietmar Hamann and just-internationally retired US captain Claudio Reyna. Son of Danish goalkeeping legend Peter Schmeichel, Kasper, might get a rare run out in goals.

Joining Shenhua and City in the tourney will be Japan’s Kashima Antlers, one of the most successful J-League teams, and Spain’s Atletico Madrid, who are living it up at the Sofitel Jin Jiang Oriental in Pudong, apparently. Their star players include former Chelsea and PSV Eindhoven striker Mateja Kežman of Serbia, Argentinian Maxi Rodriguez and Spain’s Fernando Torres

All the action will be Shenhua’s home ground, Hongkou Football stadium, and pairs of matches will take place back-to-back on Friday and Sunday evening.

On Friday at 6:15 pm, Atletico Madrid will play Kashima Antlers, immediately followed by Manchester City v Shenhua at 8:30. On Sunday at 6:15 pm, it’s Kashima Antlers v Man City, then Shenhua take on Atletico Madrid in the closing match at 8:30 pm.

Strangely, mind-numbing PR drivel from the event website says: “The tournament will see two double-header evenings of international football action and will use IEP S&L’s own innovative points scoring system to decide its champion, making for a most exciting sporting occasion.” Aye, right then. How can you have a “champion” if each team doesn’t play every other team, and it isn’t a knockout format? Odd.

Shanghaiist apologizes for the rather negative tone of this article. We are sure it will be exciting for those who think celebrity-spotting is somehow fun, or who like watching overpaid stars jog around making sure they don’t get injured against lower-standard opposition. It’s just that we have been to countless preseason friendlies before and they are seldom entertaining — their only function being that they ease the close-season withdrawal symptoms of the football-obsessed, like Shanghaiist. Couple with this, the obvious exploitative intentions of Man City and Atletico Madrid, and we just can’t get that excited about it. It’s just a cynical and meaningless money-making exercise by already dirt-rich big Euro clubs being dressed up by the PR corps as something more than it actually is.

The Man City website was selling tickets for each match day for 32 British Pounds. The price does entitle the ticket-holder to watch both games being played that evening, but it’s a rip-off for a meaningless friendly.

In China, tickets for both match days are available at a ticket booth set up for the tournament at the Shanghai Hilton Hotel, 250 Huashan Road, priced 60-880 RMB, with a 25 RMB service charge. Briefs are also available to purchase online at

Alternatively, do the smart thing and buy a ticket outside the ground because we guarantee there will be loads of touts looking for fans stupid enough to pay more than 100 RMB for a ticket. You should be able to get it for less than that. The stadium capacity is 35,000 but we don’t think it will be full.

Can’t wait to see the big super-duper soccer stars in action? Tickets allow the holder into a one-hour open training session tomorrow morning at Hongkou at 10 am, or get your autograph book out for a signing session with the Man City players at the stadium on Saturday at 4pm.

The CSL takes a 3-week summer break and resumes on August 19.


This post was originally published on Shanghaiist.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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