This week, I looked at the Chinese Super League so that you don’t have to, to take in the full, slightly wild 90 minutes of the champions Guangzhou Evergrande last year, the finalists of the Jiangsu Suning, the most recent of the CSL fixtures to be shown as per Sky Sports.
There was a vague point to all this beyond simple recreation. The attractiveness of the Chinese Super League seems to lurk behind every story, every noise off, presented as a kind of golden career-trash for each aging star with a hunger for the agent to feed. Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao have been linked with moves this summer. Only this week, Wayne Rooney was begged not to go, recalled that he â€œstill has so much to giveâ€, such as a man being talked down from the 27th floor windowledge of a seven-star tower of the hotel.
But then, China has always been an object of confused the fascination of the world beyond its borders. Most commonly, this alarm China to grow, his furious ambition, captured the best in the sport at the opening of the Beijing Olympic games, those massed ceremony drums pounding their minions synchronized rhythms as a soldier at the feet of the advancing robot army, here to paste your skull to pieces with the sharp end of a mass-production low-cost computer circuit board.
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There is something of this in the way that the CSL has been portrayed by far. And yes, also a football â€œproduct,â€ even this meeting at the summit of Guangzhou and Jiangsu was predictably mediocre. But there was also something strangely captivating about the whole occasion, from the time when the players came running on a huge red soaking Styx-like a race track at Tianhe Stadium on a steaming night, where every surface seemed to be dripping and oozing.
The Tianhe itself is huge, extending its stands packed with really excited to search of premises. Although the teams have lined up for a pre-match national anthem, there was a reminder of what it is really an expression of nationalism and of the political will as much more familiarly nihilistic European cash circus.
There was dear old Ramires lining for Jiangsu and the gaucho Luiz Felipe Scolari bragging on the touchline looking as if he is about to step over and accuse you of having sworn in front of his horse. The CSL is a ghosts-of-Chelsea-past kind of place in general, with a AVB in there, Oscar here, go a little bit like having a dream about Chelsea 2008-2013 after 17 shots of rice wine and six caipirinhas.
Early on there were loud cheers from the crowd cheering every tackle, slipped over the head or kick. Beyond this, Chinese football is intense, a game full of collisions, slots, toes bruised, barked shins. He is also a two-speed case. Sometimes Brazilians seem to be playing a sort of mini-game between themselves, while everyone got on with kicking each other in the spaces between the two.
Ten minutes of Alan, a time of Red Bull Salzburg, has scored the opening goal with a header from a corner, sightly empty cheers. And for a moment everything seems to go a little heavy and slow, poking through the cracks, the feeling of a Great Football League that exists for no other reason than to be a Great Football League due to a major League Football is a thing to be.
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This is very well, but China is at least trying to do something else. The league here has not only an exercise commercial. The chinese president, Xi Jinping, has announced that the intention of China to win the World Cup in the next 30 years. The new, possibly game-changing tax on the purchase of foreign players, talking about it, so as to prevent the rich of old-lag effect in favour of the development.
For each transfer abroad of an equal sum must be paid into a fund for the local breed of young players. This has been said, in England as something strange and wonderful. In fact, it’s a brilliant idea. Why on earth, in a country where the green spaces and the basic facilities are so poorly supplied, don’t we have something like that? China, a land of growth of the economy could â€“ and also profoundly useful ideas designed to promote the local infrastructure.
Back in Tianhe Alan got the second to Guangzhou, a beautiful little flick and a beautiful finish cheered wildly by a booth full of young fans with replica shirts, floppy hair and thick glasses, a kind of indie-chic patio look, as if the Chinese champions were cheered on by 40,000 sensitive San Francisco singer-songwriters of the 1990s.
Towards the end, all hell broke loose as the Colombian Roger Martinez, who looks like a nice bar of tubby teddy bear, has been involved in yet another shin-raking thrust and nearly all of the present have lost their mind, players shoving and yelling and bickering all over the place, the referee to take three minutes to get round to sending someone.
â€œBelieve in the Cantonâ€, a huge field to the side of the sign promoted through all this. But can we really believe in Chinese football? Sheffield United or Bolton would win the league as it is now. If you have picked up all of the best Brazilians in the CLS, you’d probably have a pretty decent Ukrainian Europa League team.
The absence of an element of football cultureâ€, clubs, and leagues is often viewed with contempt as a fatal defect among all this ambition. But it is in part a legacy of the former policy, with the ban on formal gatherings and clubs. For the moment, the machine continues to drive itself. The fact is that Rooney, Costa and John Terry are only part of the story in a country where the state is ploughing billions in a vast and terrifying at the national level of the football academy and schools programme.
It is in isolation, without doubt the largest and most social sports experience ever achieved, and a path that could, frankly, driving anywhere, even from the chaotic, fun, but low-spec fare on show on a hot night in the city of Guangzhou. It will be, at the very least, be fascinating to watch, and something to learn from rather than despised.
As General de Gaulle pointed out, China is indeed a very large country, and one that contains many Chinese. He doesn’t want the world. But he only wants the World Cup. There is a huge investment here, a supernumerary of the population and savagely nationalist of the livestock in good conditions. Who knows, they might just get a little closer than you think.