Is China’s Soccer Boom Going Bust?
At least Miranda, 37, has been able to continue his career: He quickly landed a spot — and a rich new contract — at São Paulo, a team that plays in Brazil’s top division. Such an outcome is unlikely for the dozens of Chinese nationals who have gone unpaid or been cast off by their clubs in recent months.
Understand China’s New Economy
An economic reshaping. China is enacting new measures to change how business works and limit executives’ power. Driven by a desire for state control and self-reliance, these changes mark the end of a Gilded Age for private business that made the country into a manufacturing powerhouse and a nexus of innovation.
“These are players that have very little access to the international market,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of FIFPro, the global players’ union. “If their clubs go bankrupt, the chance to find work as a footballer is very slim. So it effectively puts them out of work.”
An Altered State
The prospects for the Chinese league are unclear. The market for top-shelf foreign players, and their willingness to go to China amid the stories of unpaid wages, has vanished. And the fates of the clubs and others who work in China’s soccer economy remain at the whim of capricious local soccer officials, who are known for frequently and abruptly changing the rules, and the financial health of the league’s primary investors, typically real estate businesses, which has led the league to be known colloquially as the real estate league instead of the Super League.
The days of eye-popping paydays are surely over. Carlos Tevez, a striker, once earned $40 million for a single unproductive season from Shanghai Shenhua, a team owned by the real estate company Greenland Group. Top Brazilian players like Hulk and Oscar received breathtaking paydays, but others cashed in as well: At one point, the salary of Darío Conca, a little-known Argentine striker, reportedly made him the third-highest-paid player in the world.
In recent years, the league has attempted to restrain rampant overspending by issuing new rules, including a tax on imports and limits on foreign players. It also introduced regulations this season that barred companies from tying their brands to those of the teams they owned, forcing businesses like Evergrande and Greenland to grudgingly rename their clubs.
“This is a very bad situation, and it will take some time to adjust,” Wu, the sports lawyer, said.