Written by Mark Gordon

Ruining the game. Disgusting. Mercenaries. Just a few descriptions I’ve seen for the Chinese Super League and those going to play there. These seem to be the opinions of many writers, ex-players and fans. The problem appears not to be with the league itself but the way its clubs are spending money. For me a large amount of the criticism smacks of more than a little hypocrisy.

In the early 90’s a new age dawned in English football. Armed with Sky TV money teams were able to attract foreign stars like never before. European superstars such as Ruud Gullit and Jurgen Klinsmann raised the profile of the English game on the continent. The more big players came to play in the league, the more the leagues profile rose. Bigger profile=more money. More money=more big name players. With the profile raised rich foreign investors joined in to take control of clubs. The spending power, particularly in the last ten years, has moved ahead of rival leagues. Real Madrid, Barcelona and other top European teams can still pay huge fees and wages. European leagues on the whole though, cannot compete with the EPL spending power.

So, with that in mind, why the sneering comments directed towards China? The players going to play there seem to be copping the brunt. ‘Why would you go to China when you could play in England’, ‘He would only be going for the money.’ Just two of the comments directed at Diego Costa amidst rumours linking him to a January move to China.

Firstly, I’m pretty sure Costa wasn’t dreaming of Stamford Bridge when he was growing up in Brazil. The notion that players abroad all dream of playing in England is at least wide of the mark. Secondly, yes. He would be going for the money. Why do you think he came to England? He is getting paid for doing a job. If he has the chance to earn more elsewhere why shouldn’t he take it?

credit Aleksandr Osipov

‘The Money Chaser’

Axel Witsel has recently signed for Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian. The Belgian started his playing career with home town club Standard Liege. Before moving to Benfica where he was being courted by many of Europe’s top clubs including Manchester United. In what seemed a surprise move at the time Witsel opted to move to Zenit Saint Petersburg. Many criticised the move claiming the player had signed ‘only for the money’. Zenit, bankrolled by Gas giants Gazprom’s 2005 takeover, were able to pay huge fee’s and wages.

Wisel spent four years in Russia before his move to China. Turning down a move to Italian giants Juventus in favour of a 5 year, £255,000-per-week deal. It is the second time in his career that Witsel has been criticised for ‘chasing the money’. Witsel has played for Belgium over 70 times and representing them at both World Cup and European Championships. Why would his career have been any more fulfilled by a stint in the Premier League?

Fans need to realise that players don’t love clubs like them. Players, for the most part, haven’t paid to sit and watch a team for years. There may be exceptions to this but on the whole it’s true. Different players will have certain ambitions. Some may want to play in a different country or for a particular club. Some may want to win trophies. Others may just see it as a job and want to earn as much as they can. It seems strange, in the case of Diego Costa, to criticise a player who moved to England for a huge step up in wages, for leaving England for that same reason.

I’m not saying I like the fact players are being paid half a million pounds a week. China as a country has taken great steps towards eradicating poverty but there are still many living there below the poverty line. The disparity between those struggling financially in this country and Premier League stars earning £250k a week is clear for all to see too. But hypocrisy in football, not money, is what I’m talking about here.

Media revel in the spending power of the EPL. Just look at the coverage deadline day gets. The money spent displayed on a ‘totaliser’. Each over-priced fee celebrated with the strangest of pride. Suddenly, the Chinese Super League comes along and the attitude towards spending has changed. It appears it is ok if the EPL out spends other leagues but not if they are being priced out of the market.

The Chinese Super League may be a flash in the pan. Leagues have over invested in the past and failed. But if the league takes off then it may permanently change the footballing landscape. The EPL, along with every other top league, will have to adjust accordingly. The sneering needs to stop though. Too many residing in the EPL glass house are throwing stones towards China.

Do you agree with this? Let us know your thoughts on the subject in the comments below!

featured image by Aleksandr Osipov