Cash alone cannot salvage Chinese soccer
Published: Mar 01, 2017 12:43 AM

According to the Telegraph, Arsène Wenger, English Premier League side Arsenal's charismatic French manager, has rejected a stunning offer from China that would have made him the highest-paid manager in the world. An unnamed Chinese club reportedly offered Wenger 30 million pounds a year net ($37.26 million), twice the salary of the current best-paid manager, Manchester City's Pep Guardiola.

No specific reason was given why Wenger turned down the offer. In recent years, in addition to Chinese soccer teams' disappointing performances, most reports on this sport are related to money. News about Chinese clubs luring top international players and coaches with astronomical salaries is not uncommon. However, can massive injections of cash really build first-class soccer teams?

Andre Villas-Boas was appointed coach of Chinese Super League (CSL) side Shanghai SIPG on a reported annual salary of 11 million pounds ($13.66 million), which makes him one of the best-paid managers in the world. But even if international coaches and players have been introduced, can they help change the destiny of Chinese soccer?

Experienced foreign players did help improve the performances of China Football Super League teams. It's reported that 66 percent of the goals were scored by foreign players in the 2016 Chinese Super League. The team bosses don't care where their players come from as long as they help their teams win. Nevertheless, this ultimately harms the development of the national team and the healthy, stable and sustainable development of a professional league.                    

Foreign players, who in essence are potential competitors of the Chinese national team in global soccer matches, squeeze out local players in the domestic game, which is detrimental to the growth and training of local players.

The cash-rich CSL has been in full swing in recent years. But it's widely believed that this is a "bogus boom," as they are seemingly still unable to find a squad of 11 top-class players from the league to perform well in the Chinese national team. 

China is facing a golden era for soccer development. The country mapped out a medium to long-term plan last April to become a "world soccer superpower" by 2050. The football industry has not only policy support at national level, but also access to cash. Wenger once said "the luxury of the modern game should be it's not only about the money." For China, the crux of Chinese soccer reform is not lack of money but how to effectively use that money.

Talented coaches and players hired with record-beating salaries could help soccer teams have immediate success. But more investment should be made to improve the training of local players and boost teenager soccer development so as to build a solid basis for China's football rise.

The Chinese public has high expectations on China's ongoing sports reforms.

Foreign coaches and players are not saviors of Chinese football, only by paying more attention to grass-roots youth training can Chinese soccer truly become stronger, though it requires time and patience. 

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