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Evergrande’s misguided attempt to increase number of foreigners must be rejected

Guangzhou Evergrande is once again pursuing a proposal to expand the number of foreigners each CSL team is allowed to carry on the roster. The team would like to see an additional two roster spots go to foreigner players, though no change would take place with the number of foreigners allowed on the pitch.

The club’s owner, Xu Jiayin, claims he’s doing this based on the desire of CSL fans, and there does appear to be some support for the proposal among casual fans. However, there are many flaws with this proposal, most of all the harm it will do to Chinese football.

While Evergrande claim that this proposal won’t take spots away from Chinese players and that the current maximum three foreigners plus one Asian player on the field at one time wouldn’t be changed, that’s patently false. Adding two additional foreigners to the roster means that two Chinese players will lose their spot. Young Chinese players, the exact type to take up the last few roster spots on a CSL club, would now find it even harder to break into a CSL team.

This would also fly in the face of what is currently the norm across Asia. In Japan, Korea, and Australia, the maximum number of foreigners on a roster is capped at five, with some of these leagues only allowing four. Thailand, a rising football nation in Asia, is going the opposite way, changing the number of foreigners in their domestic league from seven to five in hopes of promoting and improving domestic talent.

Supporters of this move point to European clubs, where there are no limits on the number of foreigners, but doing so is showing ignorance of reality. The game in Europe is far more advanced than in Asia and doesn’t require the same degree of protectionism. Further, when an English Premiership side lines up without a single English player in the lineup, its viewed as a disgrace. Some even view this as one of the reasons for England’s lack of success in international competitions.

At the same time, what will the quality of the additional foreigners be like? One of the arguments in favor of the proposal is that the Chinese players will learn and grow from practicing alongside these additional foreigners, but as it is now, many clubs’ foreigners aren’t really better than the domestic talent. If foreigners know it’s even less likely they’ll break into the starting lineup, many are even less likely to bother with China.

Xu Jiayin is only concerned with winning at all costs and could care less what damage he may be causing Chinese football. One wonders how strong his commitment is to sponsoring a football club and if he’ll get bored after a few more years. If he really just wants to spend a lot of money, get famous, and have talented foreigners working for him, why doesn’t he buy an English league club?

Hopefully Beijing Guoan, Shandong Luneng, and other rationally thinking clubs will be able to prevent this from happening.

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.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Yiddo Huayi

    14/06/2012 at 11:50

    “Further, when an English Premiership side lines up without a single English player in the lineup, its viewed as a disgrace. Some even view this as one of the reasons for England’s lack of success in international competitions.”

    1. Spurs used to be the most English of clubs in the EPL. We still won f*ck all.
    2. At the last WC in South Africa the contrast between England’s walking pensioners and Germany’s creative, quick, exciting youth (it is strange to use those adjectives alongside Germany) demonstrated the amount of investment in development in both countries.

    IF there is a strong youth development programme in China then over time the number of foreigners shouldn’t be a problem.

    • abc123

      15/06/2012 at 23:11

      “IF there is a strong youth development programme in China then over time the number of foreigners shouldn’t be a problem.”

      That’s the problem, dude…

    • BulaimeiShanghai

      22/06/2012 at 17:53

      In reply to your second point: You have either never been to Germany or not in a longtime. No, we are not driving tanks on the roads anymore and I am not constantly using the words “Achtung, Achtung” or “Schnell, schnell” in my daily vocabulary. 😉

      But, I admit, this development has been under the surface for me as well and when those young players surfaced and when and where they came from, this caught me nicely by surprise as well.

      You would be surprised to see how many homegrown Fillipino-Germans you can find playing in their national team going through the youth ranks at clubs back in Germany, some of those will be plying their trade in the Bundesliga coming season, one player with Hong Kong heritage had his first games in the Bundesliga for Hamburg last season… Things have definitely changed for the better during the last decades which also helped the development of domestic football to a big extent.

      I am sure similar things can happen in Chinese football as well as sport can unify people and make many people proud supporters of their local or “localized” clubs which ideally is in the hands of the community, when they travel to stadiums around the country. I think it would also be sad if this potential is going to waste because people would just look at the domestic game short-term. The base has to be created at the non-profit, local level and this is where the hard work needs to be done and where heads need to smoke to find more places where those players, some of them of poorer backgrounds, can come out and play…buying stars all the time is only a short-term relief for a serious ailment as homegrown talents need opportunities and the right environment to develop.

      • Yiddo Huayi

        22/06/2012 at 20:16

        “In reply to your second point: You have either never been to Germany or not in a longtime. No, we are not driving tanks on the roads anymore and I am not constantly using the words “Achtung, Achtung” or “Schnell, schnell” in my daily vocabulary. ;-)”

        Genau! Maybe not tanks but you still have Opels in Germany, no?

        (1995 was the last time I was there – but nothing to do with football)

        However I have been watching World Cups since 1976 and I don’t think I can recall such an exciting German team over that time as the team of 2010.

        Agree with all of your last paragraph (although it seems that there isn’t much that is in the hands of the community in the CSL).

        tschüss!

        • BulaimeiShanghai

          26/06/2012 at 10:47

          Hehe, thanks mate, yeah to the last point, I wish there was more in the hands of the community, but this could be in the future.

          Looking forward to read more of your comments here.

          Tschuess!

          • BulaimeiShanghai

            26/06/2012 at 10:57

            Yeah, we still do have Opel, the same as Vauxhall btw., just different logos. Actually the whole Opel story is a sad one as the company will die for some reason or another in the near future, as they were not allowed to release their own models, one supposedly with a very green engine that could have helped the company to gain some much needed share of the market, as some sources suggested. I am not sure why they were not allowed to release this model, might have something to do with GM and the franchising rights, they also are not allowed to sell their cars abroad.

            In the 1980s, at the high time of the mullets, the Opel Manta was very popular status symbol of the Ruhr Valley Idiot (Dortmund, Gelsenkirchen, Bochum, Duisburg, Essen, the likes of these cities, the former industrial North-West). They even made movies about it.

            You still see some Opels on the road but they get rarer by the day. Since living in China, I would have nearly forgotten about Opel and I seem not to have seen that many when I have been back in the Germany at the last time round in January.

            With Opels and mullets, you hit the nail on its head. 😉

            Sorry for the off topic, guys!

  2. K Y L

    15/06/2012 at 01:41

    Couldn’t agree more with this article, the current rule is pretty much the same throughout Asia and it hasn’t hurt the likes of Japan or S Korea at all. If Evergrande want better players how about investing in their youth team.

    The fact of the matter is if China allows more foreigners the league will reach tipping point and it will harm the development of the National team. You can already see it with the strikers position within the league, for years Chinese clubs have bought foreign striker after foreign striker and its limited the development of Chinese attackers, just look at the last several goalscoring charts, how many Chinese players are in them let alone when was the last time they’ve topped it? Li Jinyu was probably the last decent striker that China produced and his decline pretty much correlated with China’s worst ever World ranking.

    Even in the EPL straight after the WC in 2010 they brought in a home grown rule, so you see other countries are trying to protect themselves.

    • Yiddo Huayi

      15/06/2012 at 06:35

      I also agree with the article, in that what makes the CSL so different from any of the other “developing” leagues in Asia?

      The homegrown rule for the EPL included a limit to the team squad (25) and eight players who have been through the club’s academy (or another English club’s academy). Eight players; which means 17 can be foreign.

      However I am less wedded to the idea that 3+1 or 4+1 or 7+1 or whatever will hold back Chinese player development (perhaps in the short term, but why would it over the long-term if there are development programmes in place?).

      Many countries are adopting the “Whole of Football” plan and I think I read here at WEF that China had looked closely at the Japanese system. These countries won’t see an immediate influx of local talent, it will take time. In the meantime having flashy foreigners will raise the profile of the sport in the country (Beckenbauer – a long time ago, Beckham and Henry spring to mind…) and hopefully create interest amongst the young.

      Would be keen to hear from Trevor and others who have tried grass-roots programmes in China or elsewhere.

      • bcheng

        15/06/2012 at 08:08

        I can understand where you’re coming from, but in the end, it’s two spots that are being taken away from Chinese players and given to foreigners. Cam and I have always thought the CSL should consider reducing the number of foreigners, not adding even more.

        I don’t think there’s any need to “raise the profile” of the sport in China. This is a discussion I’ve had with a lot of people, Chinese love football, any kid that’s taken to a game at Gongti or in Guangzhou is going to fall in love with it. The problem with keeping kids in the game is the education system.

        • Yiddo Huayi

          15/06/2012 at 08:37

          Of course my argument is very academic as from accounts here on WEF there is bugger all in the way of youth development and promising Chinese players don’t end to travel overseas for further opportunities (or do and end up sitting on the bench getting callouses on their buttocks). However I’d hope that the CFA isn’t the equivalent of the Uncle Sepp and Twat Platini FIFA gravy train and actually cared about fostering the sport in China.

          To me the biggest affront is that it is at odds with all other leagues that CSL teams will potentially compete with in the ACL – so having two different systems favours the clubs that are filthy rich.

          That is the most vile aspect of all of this.

          • Yiddo Huayi

            15/06/2012 at 08:38

            “don’t tend to travel overseas for further opportunities”….

    • Yiddo Huayi

      15/06/2012 at 06:40

      Sorry, but also; that the clubs have chosen to hire lots of foreign fanny-merchants as opposed to midfielders or defenders is a reflection on the clubs immaturity rather than the amount of foreigners allowed in the league and its effect on the local talent.

      • bcheng

        15/06/2012 at 07:54

        It’s a chicken/egg problem. There’s an obvious issue with Chinese strikers, is it because Chinese strikers have never been that good that all these foreigners were brought in or are they no good because of all the foreigners? I’d say it has a lot to do with the bringing in of foreigners, teams feel having a foreign striker will add to the excitement of the game and that’s why the number of starting Chinese strikers in the CSL can be counted on one hand right now.

        • Rovertlamb

          23/06/2012 at 16:43

          We’re forgetting another key reason strikers are taken in the CSL as opposed to other positions. Communication! Strikers don’t need to be in constant communication with teammates as midfield and defense do.

  3. Football KING

    16/06/2012 at 00:10

    Seems so many are against this proposal…
    But i’m gonna be the “rebel with a cause here”, hehe…
    I feel that this is a gud point by expanding the foreign slots. Somehow my gut instinct says that Zhang Jilong might lobby for expanding the AFC 3+1 rules as well. This will bring in more foreign talents which will improve the overall standard in Asia thus make it more competitive. As it stands, Asia sill rank the lowest in the world,(i dun count Ocenia). It’s about time we should stop being EPL customer base.

    AS for taking the slots from chinese footballers, i dun think that’s the main reason for China and indeed Asia as well for doing badly in football. After all , there has been a foreign limit then but chinese football has not been really improving. Sure, easy to point finger to China’s youth development/ corruption scandal but why is it that all of Asia(includes Japan/Korea/Australia too) is not up to Europe/South American level???

    The KEY is competition and the only way to do it is by emulating EPL/UEFA. There are a few benefits:
    1. More foreign talents improve the standard.
    2. Big name (Anelka/Drogba) coming will spur excitement and thus passion for more football fans which hopefully inspire more young kids to take profesional football career. It’s one thing to watch football on TV but totally different feeling being at the stadium.
    3. Chinese footballers will have the chance to play top level football without going to Europe and then ruins his career at the bench ( Dong Fangzhou )…For some reasons, Asians seems to struggle in Europe..Maybe they are not gud enough, perhaps EPL is too physical and required tough, strong black players like Drogba or simply racism/ negative stereotype that Asians will easily break their bones(LOL)…and i think it’s totally insulting that the clubs interested on Asians footballers so that they can sell shirts…(Yeah, i point to Sun Jihai and Park Ji-sung)
    4. More foreign coaches/ managers transfering their expertise and experience of top level football.
    Asian management is still amazingly dissappointing. I mean when was the last time u see an asian coach/manager any European clubs

    Anyway, i believe that the way to move forward is to have more competitive matches and practice FREE MARKET … China is also in unique position coz of it’s massive population and increasing middles class/ wealth…The question is do they have the guts to open up???

    • bigbadhai

      16/06/2012 at 15:20

      I really welcome your contrary view many thanks for responding. But I don’t agree. The concept of a “free market” is misleading, it gives disproportionate amounts of freedom to those with most money to spend. That is the case in most places, and it certainly is in China.

      “freemarket” would give guys like Evergrandes boss the freedom to do exaclty as he pleases with his team regardless of the fans wishes. Time and time again football culture and local grassroots development suffer because the freemarket allows big business to trample over these two components which are essential to the wellbeing of the sport.

      You can’t compare Asia with Europe, when Europe was at the same stage China is at now, there wasnt the need to make rules restricting the number of foreign players to protect local player development, because international travel was difficult and expensive and the world was not as integrated then. Simply put, if the foreign slot allowance is increased, then where are Chinese players giong to get the chance to develop if they cant even play in their own league?

      There are enough player slots as it is to enable quality foreign players to come in and raise standards and help local players raise their game. Infact, keeping the slots limited keeps the standard of foreign player high. I have lost count of the number of foreign players who I have seen playing in the CSL who were, frankly, shite and not worth keeping a local player out of the team. Perhaps evergrande can afford to bring seven Concas to Asia – but most other clubs can’t and would end up bringing mediocre journeymen, the likes of which we have more than enough already.

      At any rate, there are plently of supporters in Europe for limiting the amount of foreign players, and indeed there are rules which limit the number of players who were not trained in that country who can appear in one team. Also look at the UK. We are watching the worst England team in decades, at the same time there is a record low number of English players playing in their own league. I doubt its a coincidence.

      And in my home country, Scotland, we just saw the liquidation of a team which spent millions of pounds of other peoples money to sign mediocore players like Tor Andre Flo for 12 million to try to chase “glory” in Europe, instead of investing it in youth schemes, now that club, Rangers, no longer exists and has caused untold damage to Scottish football, all in the name of spending big bucks on crap foreigners.

      The CSL does many things wrong, but adhering to the 3+1 rule is something is undoubtedly has gotten absolutely right.

    • BulaimeiShanghai

      22/06/2012 at 17:29

      Hi Football KING,

      Great comment, the performance, tactics and intensity among the top 4 or top 6 clubs in the Premiership is certainly without comparison in the top European domestic leagues. This is displayed in the European club competitions as well.

      I wonder what will happen when UEFA has installed their financial fair play and what implications it has for the clubs that have owners who like to splurge though. I may suggest in order to raise competitiveness in the CSL, its attractiveness among local supporters and to open more opportunities for homegrown players to get key positions at their respective clubs, to rather emulate the German Bundesliga instead of the EPL (although, I am sure though the Chinese find their own way of doing things with their league).

      The Bundesliga has high and growing average attendances, clubs are relatively financially sound, no team seems to be down and out from the start of the season since there is a middleclass of clubs which don’t have to fear relegation all the time and this allows for stability and long-term thinking where even a relegation may not necessarily send a club into oblivion for a long time. The German league is more exciting with more teams having a serious shot a the domestic title, although I admit that this revolving door makes it hard for more than two clubs to establish a permanent spot in the hunt for the most prestigious trophy in European club football as it is hard for German clubs to plan having a CL-berth next season as many teams could be in that position if you are not, for example, Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund for that matter.

      I feel in the EPL money is the most deciding factor. Stadiums are mostly with the seats and no standing is allowed in most places to my knowledge. A lot of young fans, the next generation, who potentially could be quite active supporters are getting priced out of the game as they can not afford season tickets or tickets for matches.

      A free-market per se is not the answer, in my opinion, for nurturing the weak flower of Chinese domestic football, I would allow for some protectionist measures until it is strong enough to survive in the strong sea.

      I have great respect for Evergrande and I feel that in the shadow of foreign players some Chinese players in the team are showing more confidence and take leadership, this could come to a halt if the CSL rule on foreign players is changed just for short-term thinking and makes it harder for Chinese players to find their feet in the line-up of their respective teams. I think with just a few teams in the race to win the league in China, the interest at the periphery may fade and there are some signs of blossoming right now which should not go to waste.

      Best regards from Shanghai to all those who write and comment.

  4. Kimo

    16/06/2012 at 17:23

    This move is certainly a part of Evergrande’s grand plan to buy their way to future league titles. It’s no doubt that clubs like them and Fuli have the financial resources to go out and sign whoever they want. However, if I may draw an example, the CSL and the CFA have to look no further than to what happened with some teams Europe in the 1990s.

    Once more money started to get poured in the game from TV and sponsors, clubs such as Man Utd, Chelsea, and Liverpool started opening their checkbooks to sign some of the best players in the world to grace their stadiums. This move was to the detriment of clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest (a former European Cup winner) and Coventry City who had to spend beyond their means just to survive. This led them to financial ruin and relegation from the top league, like other clubs in various European leagues.

    If this proposal were to go through, many clubs in the CSL now could be seriously affected as Evergrande and a few other clubs will be splashing out the cash for more players. Those clubs could either face relegation because they cannot compete with the big spenders or they face being put out of business because they have spent too much.

    There is also the threat that the league could become less competitive in future should the proposal go through. How many fans would want to go out to see a match knowing that two or three teams only have a realistic chance of winning the league?

    Not only should this proposal be turned down, the CSL should also enforce a strict financial policy that keeps clubs like Evergrande from overspending and makes the transfer market in China competitive for all the clubs.

    Evergrande should be spend their money on developing a quality youth system where they can train and develop future players for the first squad and not think so much about going out and spending millions on players.

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