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Alibaba leave Greentown hanging to make the CSL rich richer and poor poorer

Amidst the fanfare of Alibaba and Jack Ma’s multi million euro investment in Guangzhou Evergrande, with fans and pundits alike lining up to say express how vital this investment is for Chinese football is, one part of China is not cheering.

Just one month ago, as reported by this website and others, Alibaba agreed to buy 49% of Hangzhou Greentown; Zhejiang’s only CSL club.  With Alibaba’s headquarters stationed in Hangzhou and the club’s owner on the lookout for investment, this seemed like a smart move for Alibaba and a great source of investment for Greentown.  And with the club’s academy currently churning out exciting prospects and investing heavily in youth development, Ma’s money was set to herald a new dawn for the Greentown club.

Greentown Owner Song Weiping has ploughed close to 2 billion RMB into Greentown, but has been forced to cut back his investment as real estate regulations and problems in China’s property market prompted him to focus on his real estate business.  Ma’s money was all set to help bridge the gap between the club’s super rich clubs and the less wealthy midtable sides.

However, just last week, allegedly in a 15 minute phone call, Ma reneged on his deal to invest in Greentown, instead handing over the group’s money to Guangzhou Evergrande in return for a 50% stake in the CSL and ACL champions.  Business trumped football, it seemed, as Ma declared he was investing in entertainment and not football.

Hangzhou Greentown supporters and representatives were left stunned as the deal was announced, with fans claiming that Ma and Alibaba have betrayed the club, particularly with the Alibaba company based in Hangzhou.  Other fans questioned the logic of Ma investing in a club that already is the richest in Asia, bringing in sponsorship revenues of 42 million Euros.

Ma’s investment in Greentown would have brought positive benefits to the CSL, Hangzhou and the national side.  Greentown already boast one of the country’s best youth set ups and the team features a number of young Chinese players.  Alibaba’s money would have helped the club invest further in youth development; not only strengthening the club and the CSL, but also the national side.  It’s likely, however, Ma has seen there is little chance of getting a return on his investment, with Hangzhou’s average attendance’s around 13,000, little sponsorship income and ACL football a long way away.

After two disappointing seasons for Hangzhou, seeing the club fighting relegation and the loss of experienced manager Takeshi Okada, it appeared the club could finally start looking upwards with Alibaba’s investment.  For Hangzhou Greentown supporters, the news has come as a bitter blow to the club, and won’t be easily forgotten.

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