Football – Ronaldo’s Saudi switch another symbol of China’s decline. Mighty 790 KFGO

Michael Church

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival at Al Nasr on a high-paying deal made headlines around the world last month, but in another world, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has moved further east. I may have been destined to do so.

The move to Saudi Arabia following the cancellation of the Portuguese striker’s Manchester United contract has highlighted changes within Asian football that began before the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to have a major impact.

The Chinese Super League (CSL) has attracted an increasing number of key players and coaches to China since the early 2000s, with money often pouring into clubs owned by indebted property developers. I was.

Shanghai Shanghai’s acquisition of Brazilian duo Oscar and Hulk for a combined €130 million ($141.27 million) transfer fee in 2016 is a win for already World Cup winners Marcello Lippi and Luis Felipe Scolari. It highlighted the league’s intentions, which had attracted the coaches of

Carlos Tevez’s arrival at Shanghai Shenhua shortly after a rumored £600,000 ($743,820) a week has confirmed China’s status as football’s latest Eldorado.

Officials worried about overspending on tightening regulations did little to cool speculation that big names in the game were headed for China, with both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi linked to CSL clubs. It wasn’t surprising, though.

Ronaldo, in particular, has led to numerous moves to the East, rising rapidly and spending heavily after the forward’s agent Jorge Mendes was photographed with the club’s owner in 2018. Tianjin Quanqiang, which is currently under construction, was advertised as a candidate site.

But five years later, a lot has changed.

Tianjin was one of the first CSL clubs to close due to financial or legal issues, and Wuhan Yangtze closed this week.

Few players have escaped the downturn in Chinese football.

Jiangsu Suning, owned by one of China’s leading retailers, dissolved in early 2021, months after winning the CSL title for the first time.

Two-time Asian champions Guangzhou FC, once the dominant force in Chinese football, closed after owner developer China Evergrande was forced to limit funding after the government restricted borrowing. , declined.

China’s strict zero COVID policy has only heightened the challenge for Chinese clubs.

Talent has flowed from the CSL into the Saudi Pro League, and the competition’s top scorers – Al Nasr’s Anderson Taliska, Al Ittihad’s Abderazak Hamdallah and Al Hilal’s Odion Ighalo – have all played in China.

While Saudi Arabia has big ambitions to host the 2027 Asian Cup, it has launched a bid to organize the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup.

These moves come after China was forced to give up its rights to the 2023 Asian Cup last year.

Restrictions were finally eased in a dramatic U-turn last month, but it has taken a heavy toll on Chinese football.

The luster in Chinese football has all but faded amid the focus on the oil-financed wealth offered by a newly assertive Saudi Arabia.

($1 = 0.9202 Euro)

($1 = £0.8066)

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by Josie Kao)

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