Football has really kicked off in China since President Xi Jinping announced he wants his country to host and win the World Cup in double-quick time.
Now, wealthy business people see investing huge sums of money in soccer as a way to buy favour with the government.
Where Europe was saw fading stars head East for a last pay packet before hanging up their boots for retirement, now massive sums of money are tempting leading stars.
Premier League side Liverpool bid £24 million for the services of Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira but were rejected when Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning flexed some financial muscle.
The Chinese paid £39 million – a transfer that would have beat the highest amount paid for a player by 16 of the current 20 Premier League teams.
Jiangsu also splurged £25 million on Chelsea midfielder Ramires in the same week.
Business bankrolls soccer
Several Chinese clubs are throwing their hats in the ring as big spenders.
Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao paid £33 million for Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez, while Shanghai Greenland Shenhua and Hebai China Fortune also swooped on expensive European club players.
Most of the big spending teams are bankrolled by commercial concerns – like the world’s largest ecommerce site Ali Baba, which owns a large slice of Guangzhou.
Money is no problem and political will is clearly leading the way.
The discussion is whether you can suddenly plant a football machine to churn out world class players that will beat the tactically shrewd and technically gifted teams such as Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina and Italy.
These countries have played soccer for a century and will not give up their top dog status easily.
For 20 years or so, investors have tried to introduce soccer to the USA with little success.
World Cup fever
Soccer is seen as a second-class sport, behind US football, baseball, basketball and even ice hockey.
That’s despite investment of millions of pounds and top footballing names such as Pele heading West to spread the word and pick up a few dollars in the twilight of their careers.
Football may fare better in China with the backing of the president, but no matter how deep your pockets, you cannot buy experience on the pitch for your national team.
By the time China hosts the World Cup, say 2026 at the earliest, China would need to produce at least 40 world class players to hold their own with the rest of the world.
Realistically, children now aged five or six years old may develop that talent by their mid-20s, which means China cannot poise a real World Cup winning threat until 2036 or into the 2040s.