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Property Equals Power in Chinese Football

Chinese Super League logoIf you want to know who has money in China, look to those who own the property.  The real estate boom of the last few years has been one of the hottest topics in the local news and is one that is constantly on the minds of average people.  Real estate companies often get the land in sweetheart deals with the local government and then turn it into high end apartments, making a killing in the end and meaning low income housing is almost non existent these days.

That’s all well and good, but this is a blog about football, not economics.  However, this is yet another example how football influences, or is influenced by, everything around it.  The rich real estate companies and their owners choose, or are pushed by the local government, to put some of their money back into the local community, and a popular choice is always the local football club.

Two weeks ago, the China League’s Shenzhen Phoenix looked like it was about to be disbanded.  Their American owners, Mozamba, were accused of failing to pay the players and  there was no money for hotels or airfare to their weekend match in Shenyang.  At a midweek practice, the players decided to quit the team and many headed home.  It looked like the end for a club that was a founding member of both Jia A and the Chinese Super League, though it was a long way away from it Shenyang roots and had become unrecognizable since then.

At the last moment, the club was saved by Fuli Real Estate and traveled to Shenyang where they ended up winning.  The team currently sits in 6th place, but is only 4 points away from the last promotion spot.  Immediately when it was announced Fuli was taking charge, their deep pockets garnered speculation that big money signings would be coming in.  Already word on the street is that Marlon Harewood and Djibril Cisse will be joining the club, which has changed its name to Guangzhou Fuli (though it appears, at least for now, that they will stay in Dongguan instead of the provincial capital).

The signings of Harewood and Cisse would be minor news in light of their fellow Guangzhou club, Guangzhou Evergrande’s crazy cash splurge on Brazilian player of the year Conca.  Of course Evergrande is run by another real estate mogul, Xu Jiayin, who has thrown his money around in the sports world, first in women’s volleyball and now in football.

Whether or not this real estate cash infusion in the domestic leagues is good or not can be argued, but one real estate mogul is staying above the fray.  A few weeks ago, my fellow blogger Smari talked about Wang Jianlin and his investment in the national team. Wang is head of Wanda Real Estate and used to sponsor the Dalian team, however after a controversial loss in 1998, he withdrew his sponsorship of the club and vowed never to be involved in football again.

It seems his love for football and hopes for development in China outweighed his anger and over 10 years later, Wang is committing RMB500 million (US$77 million) to Chinese soccer.  For the next three years, the Chinese Super League, sponsorless since Pirelli pulled out at the end of last year, will be known as the “Dalian Wanda Plaza Chinese Super League”.  The Chinese Super League has had a number of title sponsors, both big and small, the most important question is will this one last.

Wang’s money will also be directed, most importantly, at the CFA to help develop youth soccer in China as well as bringing in a new coach for the national team.  Unfortunately, it appears Wang is focused most on instant results, and further cooperation after 2013 will be based on if the CFA can improve youth participation from the dismal 7,000 it is now to a much larger number.

It should also be noted that the other clubs who’ve been influential in the transfer market, namely Shaanxi Chanba and Hangzhou Greentown, are both backed by holding companies that are involved in the Chinese real estate world.  In China it seems the equivalent of finding a Russian oligarch or Middle Eastern oil money is finding a real estate company to back your team.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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