‘China’s Real Madrid’ set sights on global mar­ket

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Six league ti­tles in a row and two Asian tro­phies along the way could be just the start for China’s Guangzhou Ever­grande, who have drawn com­par­isons with Real Madrid and Manch­ester United and are eye­ing global recog­ni­tion.

The team from the south­ern me­trop­o­lis of Guangzhou have risen from ob­scu­rity and cor­rup­tion to break new ground for Asian foot­ball, be­com­ing China’s first AFC Cham­pi­ons League win­ners in 2013.

That vic­tory earned the so­bri­quet “Asia’s first su­per­club” as Ever­grande’s spend­ing power and heav­ily South Amer­i­can squad, then mar­shalled by World Cup-win­ning coach Mar­cello Lippi, put ri­vals in the shade. An­other World Cup-win­ner, Brazil’s Luiz Fe­lipe Sco­lari, joined in 2015 and duly helped them to their se­cond Cham­pi­ons League tro­phy, plus a fifth straight league ti­tle last year be­fore clinch­ing the sixth on Sun­day. With the Chi­nese Su­per League firmly con­quered-de­spite ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion from other big-spend­ing clubs-and their rep­u­ta­tion well es­tab­lished in Asia, Ever­grande can tar­get loftier goals.

After Ever­grande out­lined plans to be­come one of the world’s top clubs, an­a­lysts say they may soon be tour­ing Europeturn­ing the ta­bles on the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, where Euro­pean clubs visit Asia look­ing to ex­tend their fan­base.

“At this rate it would not be in­con­ceiv­able for Chi­nese clubs to be tour­ing Europe in the next decade,” Jon Stainer, Nielsen Sport’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor for the United King­dom and Ire­land, told AFP.

‘BE THE BEST FOR­EVER’

Ever­grande are a les­son in what can be achieved with money and de­ter­mi­na­tion as just three years be­fore their first Asian ti­tle, they were de­moted in dis­grace from the Su­per League dur­ing a wide-rang­ing cor­rup­tion crack­down.

The club was snapped up by Ever­grande Real Es­tate Group, which had be­come a multi-bil­lion dol­lar en­ter­prise in China’s prop­erty boom, and im­me­di­ately won pro­mo­tion back to the Su­per League. They have been na­tional cham­pi­ons ev­ery year since. “Six in a row is spe­cial for any club,” Gary White, head coach of se­cond-tier Shang­hai Shenxin, told AFP.

“Guangzhou’s motto is ‘Be the Best For­ever’ and they have the re­sources both fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally from their stake­hold­ers to be­come a global brand.”

In Au­gust, Forbes val­ued Guangzhou at $282 mil­lion, a fig­ure com­pa­ra­ble to many top clubs in Europe-some of which are now be­ing snapped up by Chi­nese in­vestors.

Shop­ping em­pire Sun­ing, owner of Jiangsu, Guangzhou’s clos­est Su­per League chal­lenger this year, paid around $310 mil­lion for a 70 per­cent stake in In­ter Mi­lan in June. In March, China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua news agency even rated Ever­grande as the world’s rich­est club, based on a trans­ac­tion of the club’s shares which im­plied a mar­ket cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion of $3.35 bil­lion, a shade higher than Real Madrid and Manch­ester United. The in­gre­di­ents are in place for fur­ther suc­cess on the pitch: Sco­lari ex­tended his con­tract this week and the squad in­cludes Colom­bian striker Jack­son Martinez, Brazil­ian tal­ents Paulinho and Ri­cardo Goulart and a num­ber of Chi­nese in­ter­na­tion­als.

Ever­grande, as well as their wealthy own­ers, also boast an av­er­age at­ten­dance of around 45,000 at their Tianhe sta­dium which is in the midst of the Pearl River Delta, the world’s largest and most pop­u­lous ur­ban area.

Guangzhou were the first of China’s big spenders, re­port­edly mak­ing Ar­gentina’s Dario Conca one of the world’s best paid play­ers when they signed him in 2011.

They have been fol­lowed by clubs like Jiangsu, Shang­hai SIPG and He­bei China For­tune who, en­cour­aged by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s drive to make Chi­nese foot­ball great, splashed out $400 mil­lion on play­ers this year. Now, with the Chi­nese Su­per League broad­cast in more than 50 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Bri­tain, there is a grow­ing aware­ness of Chi­nese teams in Europe and else­where.—AFP

SAITAMA: This file photo taken on April 5, 2016 shows China’s Guangzhou Ever­grande head coach Luiz Fe­lipe Sco­lari look­ing on dur­ing the AFC cham­pi­ons league first round group H foot­ball match against Ja­pan’s Urawa Reds in Saitama. —AFP

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