Those Chinese football clubs, eh? Throwing their money around and snapping up the latest South American talent with good Football Manager stats and a wealth of YouTube ‘Skills, Goals and Assists’ videos. Just who do they think they are?
That’s been the Premier League’s job for some time now, and as Liverpool and Chelsea have had their noses put out of joint by the sight of their former transfer target Alex Teixeira looking at home in his new Jiangsu Suning shirt, the division themselves might have to get used to more top overseas talent preferring to spend their afternoons in Shanghai instead of Sunderland.
But is that such a bad thing for us, the supporters?
At a time when the cost of watching English football is finally and rightly at the top of news agendas, what is perhaps clearer than ever before is the simple fact that paying football fans just want to be allowed to watch their teams play.
They don’t care about the Premier League’s ‘brand’ – stern-faced lion against a monochrome background or not – they just want to cheer on 11 shirts bearing their club’s crest. Or 10 if you’re a Southampton fan and Victor Wanyama is playing.
But perhaps the sudden realisation that the game’s second tier superstars (for the top shelf lot still want to play in Spain) have a new home to go to will send shockwaves through the Premier League.
Suddenly players will be turning their backs on the vast amount of television cash in their clubs’ pockets, ‘best league in the world’ or not. We can only hope that means that the cash cow finally stops giving milk and that the game returns to those who love it the most, the supporters.
That might be pie in the sky thinking, but in the short-term the exodus to China could have a positive effect on the English game in the form of giving local youngsters more of a chance.
Ramires’ switch from Chelsea to Jiangsu Suning was the most high-profile move in January, and one of the reasons that you’d struggle to find a Blues supporter mourning the transfer is because it is going to give more of an opportunity to Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Similarly, Tottenham’s Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll have benefited from Paulinho becoming one of the Chinese Super League’s trailblazers and joining Guangzhou Evergrande last summer by establishing themselves as important members of Mauricio Pochettino’s title-chasing Spurs squad.
We could go on and on.
Paulinho’s new teammate Jackson Martinez is the type of ‘name’ forward who could have interested Manchester United in the summer, but now they might focus on the development of young James Wilson instead. Jurgen Klopp, having missed out on Teixeira, might be more inclined to keep faith in some of the impressive Liverpool youngsters he’s been parading in front of us in the FA Cup this season.
And it goes a bit deeper than that too, with even the Premier League journeymen turning their attentions to China.
Nikica Jelavic, who was excellent in his first six months at Everton in 2012, scoring 11 goals in 16 appearances, has done little more than occupy a space in a squad ever since, doing so at Hull City and now West Ham after leaving the Blues in 2014.
He’s now being strongly linked with a move to China, surely creating an opportunity for someone from the academy that West Ham are so proud of to step forward and become a local hero. Chelsea’s Loic Remy could also be leaving west London for the Far East, giving Patrick Bamford one less hurdle to clear as he strives for a career at Stamford Bridge, as well as encouragement for the army of youngsters the club have out on loan.
Everywhere you look there could be more and more opportunities for young players who seem to be constantly given chances and then having them snatched away, which in turn can only benefit the national team.
As Liverpool’s Kevin Stewart – a 22-year-old who was released by Tottenham without ever playing for them and had loan spells at Crewe, Cheltenham, Burton and Swindon – said after the Reds’ extra-time defeat to West Ham in the FA Cup, he and some of his other young teammates feel ready for Premier League football. The only thing holding them back might well be reputation.
But as more and more of the foreign stars in this country are tempted away to China, there should be more opportunities for Stewart and others like him, even if they aren’t quite the players that the Premier League would use to expand their global reach.
As out-of-pocket supporters are becoming increasingly aware of though, that should be considered a good thing.
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