Anelka, Drogba, Yakubu, Kanoute, Barrios, and now Seydou Keita. These are the names of well-known football players who’ve made the jump from Europe to China this year. The list is impressive, featuring English Premier League, European Champion’s League, and World Cup stars. Already it has led to at least one story heralding the might of China in football. As in other areas, anytime something big happens to China, it leads to a chorus of articles and commentaries proclaiming the rise of China and its Goliath status. OK, I’m glad that big-name South American and African stars are playing in China now, or soon, but I’m also worried about whether this sudden influx might hinder future development of young Chinese talent. The amount of money that is being used to entice these foreign stars is nothing small and could have gone into local youth development, for instance. My immediate concern is whether the club owners will have the patience to see the league and local standards develop, such as not moving house or disbanding every few years, or whether they will just want instant results and treat their clubs as their personal toys and status symbols. The chaos at Shanghai Shenhua, incidentally the club of Anelka and Drogba, this season saw French manager Jean Tigana fired in dubious conditions and replaced by Anelka in a farcical arrangement temporarily. I also hope that the players stay put and don’t get discouraged or forced out by local shenanigans. I am wary because the last Chinese basketball season saw several major American players come to China during the NBA lockout, but I don’t any of them made a big impact or stayed long. However, one good thing is that while several players like Drogba, Anelka, and Keita are on the wrong side of 30, they aren’t washed up at all. Also Paraguayan Lucas Barrios is only 27, and he is coming from German champions Borussia Dortmund. Barrios also played for his country in the 2010 World Cup.
But in the end, I am excited about all these big names in China and not only will this raise the profile of the league, but it will give Chinese players a higher level of competition. I just hope that Chinese defenders won’t be scared out of their wits by guys like Drogba and Yakubu (scoring the penalty below) et al, and just roll over.
Nigerian striker Yakubu converts a penalty to even the score 2-2 against South Korea in the 2010 World Cup in Durban, South Africa. Yes, I was there, and it was a good game.