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China’s “Football city” facing wipeout – Dalian Aerbin in crisis

Financially-troubled Dalian Aerbin’s could go to the wall after the city’s FA said it would block any attempt by a potential new owner to move the club to their hometown, Nanjing.

At the start of the previous CSL season, Dalian Aerbin owner Zhao Mingyang announced that his side would challenge the mighty Guangzhou Evergrande,and backed up his claim by bringing in big-name talent such as Seydou Keita and Guillaume Hoarau. The club also spent over RMB100 million on a few major transfers, including Yu Dabao, Chen Tao, and Yu Hanchao. In the end, Aerbin did not mount a serious challenge to powerhouses such as Evergrande or Guoan but finished a respectable fifth.

This time around, the overseas talent has largely disappeared, the club sit forth from bottom, and following takeover rumours all summer and the announcement that the club is in arrears, assistant manager Chi Shangbin has been forced to plead with Chinese Football Association for the club’s annual bonus to be paid early as the club struggle just to see out the season.

As is often the case in Chinese football, the difficulties faced by the club began off the field. Sina Sports reported on September 8 that the Aerbin Group has been facing financial shortages, which have impacted the club in two ways: firstly, the news of the Aerbin Group’s struggles has led to a summer filled with rumours of a takeover, with prospective buyers ranging from the Gome electronics chain to the Vanke real estate group. Secondly, financial shortages in the parent company have meant that the Aerbin football club has been unable to conduct normal operations.

Team officials acknowledged that a takeover may be the best course of action when they announced that there had been talks in June with a certain high-profile company whose name they would not reveal. However, this move was stymied by Dalian municipal sports authorities, who said that they would provide support to the team but would block any move away from Dalian. While the authorities have maintained that they will not permit Aerbin to leave Dalian, which has earned its name as China’s “football city” by producing some of China’s best players and Shide winning the league eight times before their unfortunate demise. Team officials have sought sponsors from Dalian and further afield in Liaoning, but this has been to no avail.

Having failed to attain the support of local businesses, Chi Shangbin travelled to Beijing to meet with officials from the CFA and the CSL to enquire as to whether the CSL would be prepared to bring forward the payment of Aerbin’s end-of-season bonus. The CSL pays each team a bonus of 6 million RMB every year, and Chi hoped that the football authorities would acquiesce to an advance payment of 2 million RMB. Unfortunately for Aerbin, the CSL appears likely to refuse Chi’s request on the grounds that it would set a dangerous precedent and could be perceived as unfair. Therefore, Chi Shangbin’s trip to Beijing was likely fruitless and the long-term fate of Dalian Aerbin remains in limbo.

However, if reports from Sina Sports are to be believed, there could be help on the horizon. According to Sina, Nanjing-based mobile tech firm Qbao.com are nearing an agreement with Aerbin for a takeover having already signed deals to sponsor Spanish clubs Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad, awarding Sociedad a bonus of €100,000 following their 4-2 victory over Real Madrid. Qbao.com are said to have valued Aerbin at RMB200 million, but no deal has been formally announced, likely because the refusal of Dalian sports authorities to permit a move away from the city has proven to be a sticking point.

With the Qbao.com deal potentially stalling, a familiar face could be about to come to the rescue. Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin, who owned Dalian Shide before Xu Ming’s takeover in 2000, has enjoyed a rising profile recently. In May 2012, the Wanda Group purchased the American cinema chain AMC in a deal worth just under $2.9 million, after which Wang stood side-by-side with Hollywood A-listers such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Nicole Kidman at a ceremony in Qingdao.

Not averse to the limelight, it seems that Wang also has a yearning for the glaring floodlights of the Dalian Sports Center. In an interview, Wang said, “If Guangzhou Evergrande remain as dominant as they are, do not discount the possibility of me coming out of the woods and saying goodbye to them.” Sina Sport warned that “If morale is not improved quickly, then “football city” could find itself without a top-level team for the first time in the era of professional football.” Fortunately, Wang tends to put his money where his mouth is, so professional football in Dalian stands a good chance of living to fight another day should Wang Jianlin come back behind the helm after a decade out of the picture.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. bcheng

    11/09/2014 at 12:56

    I think Dalian’s in trouble if they are hoping for Wang to step in, I can’t see him getting involved with the Dalian FA ever again, if he gets back involved in owning a team it appears likely that it will be a Beijing based side.

  2. Yenster

    13/09/2014 at 09:56

    So let me get this straight Aerbin spent an obscene amount on a defensive midfielder in Keita when what they needed was another striker to get them in the Asian Champions League. They then spent even more money in buying Dalian Shide and took on their huge debts, a whole bunch of average players who they couldn’t even include in their squad because of Chinese FA rules and then alienated all of the Dalian Shide fans by not renaming the team to Dalian United… And they wonder why they’re in financial trouble.

    The Chinese FA need to adopt some sort of financial fair play because until then every season a club is going to go under, which means that talented Chinese footballers are going to get thrown out of the sport and that ultimately affects Chinese football.

  3. Cameron Wilson

    16/09/2014 at 15:10

    Aerbin wanted to buy Shide and merge the clubs together but it was decided that it was against league rules for a company to own two clubs, even if only temporarily for the purposes of closing one and putting its assets into another. So Shide died. There’s a lot unsaid about Shide’s demise, it was intertwined in the Bo Xilai affair and no-one quite knows what really happened. Your point is well made though, the CFA need to do something to stabilize the development of clubs, unfortunately the bottom line is football clubs are not profitable therefore those who do invest in them so for non-footballing reasons.

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