A lot has been made of the ever larger amounts of money being spent by Chinese Super League teams, but the country’s second division, the China League, has also seen a growing influx of big spenders as ambitious clubs spend whatever it takes to get to the top flight.
Traditionally, there has been a grouping of clubs that would yoyo between the top two flights of Chinese soccer, every now and then punctuated by a team that would suddenly have a good crop of young players or would make some wise, but modest, purchases. They tried to stay within their means as going up to the top flight didn’t (and still doesn’t) come with the promise of riches and tv deals as is the case overseas.
Guangzhou Evergrande was the trend setter for this new era of lower level spending, starting out small in 2010 and firing its manager who had only been hired a few weeks previously and replacing him with Lee Jangsoo. The club declared its goal was to win the China League and get a Guangzhou side back in the top flight and to achieve this the club purchased Gao Lin from Shanghai Shenhua. It followed that up by purchasing two Chinese returnees from abroad, Sun Xiang and Zheng Zhi. Both had other international offers as well as the chance to play in the Chinese Super League, but both saw Guangzhou’s ambition and went for the money. The club ran away with the lower league title and one season later were Chinese Super League champions.
When Fuli took over a close to disbanding Shenzhen Mozamba side last season, they looked to the example of fellow Guangzhou real estate company Evergrande regarding how to run a football team. The club quickly upgraded its foreigners, bringing in Marlon Harewood among others, and going from middle of the table to earning a spot into the Chinese Super League. Last season’s China League champions, Dalian Aerbin, did things far more modestly, by finding young, talented players and purchasing aging Chinese Super League veterans (with a heavy focus on Dalian locals).
This season, we’re already seeing who the big spender will be, Hunan Billows. The club purchased former Manchester United “starlet” Dong Fangzhuo when he returned to China as well as bringing in former Chinese Super League Player of the Year Emil Martinez. They’ve surronded Martinez with a number of fellow Hondurans, all who have caps with the national team. Wuhan Zhongbo, in another city longing for Chinese Super League football, made a massive multiyear, multimillion renminbi bid for Hangzhou Greentown’s Du Wei. It appears that Takeshi Okada was able to convince Du, the team’s captain, to stay in Hangzhou, though for a while the money was almost enough to lure him away.
This is a startling new trend and unique around the world, aging veterans who are still more than good enough to be playing in the top flight, end up with second division clubs who have the power to outbid all comers. It’s still a small number of players who are going this route, but as second division clubs have seen over the past two seasons, outspend everybody and win the league.
Pic: Is Hangzhou’s Du Wei going to be the next to play in the second division?
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