Tag Archives: football

The Rise And Fall Of Alain Perrin

CHINA’S NATIONAL FOOTBALL team squeaked into next year’s Asian Cup finals this week by the narrowest of margins. It was a sobering welcome for new coach Alain Perrin (above), appointed by the China Football Association late last month after a lengthy search for a successor to Jose Antonio Camacho. The former Real Madrid manager was ousted last June in the face of the team’s continuing dismal performance.

Perrin is little known outside of football circles in his native France. He won cups and a league titles there but his greatest reputation is as a stop gap. None of his eleven appointments — he most recently managed Qatar’s Olympic team — have lasted longer than eight months.

That may have been the strongest selling point of his resume. Our man among the muddied oafs says that the CFA wants to appoint to the job Marcello Lippi, the Italian who manages Guangzhou Evergrande. Lippi coached Italy in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which it won. Last November his Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League – the first time that a club from China had lifted the trophy.

Lippi’s contract with the club is up at the end of this year. This Bystander is not surprised to read that Perrin’s payoff will be slight if he is dismissed, nothing like the 51.5 million yuan ($8.4 million) Camacho and his coaching staff reportedly walked away with once they were shown the door.

China lies 88th in FIFA’s global country rankings and barely scrapes into Asia’s top 10. Lippi would have a huge challenge ahead of him in getting the national team to qualify in 2018 for what would be only its second World Cup finals. The country’s football is only slowly overcoming the corruption, bribery and match-fixing scandals that plagued it in years not too recently past.

Lippi may have some technological assistance not available to his predecessors. China is putting some of its best researchers to work on video analysis of the national team’s games. Teams (of academics) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation, Xian Jiaotong University, and Tsinghua University have been tasked with devising a computer system that can identify the team’s strength’s and weaknesses — though identifying the weaknesses hasn’t been the problem, particularly for China’s opponents on the field.

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China’s Illegal Football Gaming Rings

WORD ARRIVES FROM our man in London of a curious incident at a recent English football match. A Chinese national was questioned by anti-fraud authorities after being seen to be behaving suspiciously at a Football League One match between Coventry and Crawley on January 12. It was believed he was feeding details of the game to bettors in China faster than they would arrive through official channels thus letting the gamblers place instant bets that were a sure thing. The man, who was traveling on a tourist visa, was released without charges being pressed.

China is a big player in the global black market for football gaming, and has only just emerged from an endemic corruption scandal in its domestic game. Chris Eaton, a former policeman who was a security advisor to FIFA at the most recent World Cup in South Africa, where a Chinese gang running a sophisticated online betting network was uncovered, recently told the South China Morning Post that “China either needs to legalize and regulate sport betting or aggressively police and disrupt the illegal market.” He also called for Chinese police to join with regional and international forces to share intelligence on match-fixers and betting fraudsters.

Hong Kong, too, has had recent problems with match-fixing and illegal gambling on the game. At least two First Division clubs, Happy Valley and Tuen Mun, deregistered players suspected to be involved. In South Korea, 41 players from from the K-League were given lifetime bans last year following a match-fixing scandal after the  government threatened to shut down the league if action was not taken.

cai-zhenhua-china-football-table-tennis

Cai Zhenhua

That may have caught the eye of President Xi Jinping, who follows the sport. It would fit with his broader crackdown on corruption.

Nor would Xi be pleased with the embarrassing world standing of the national team. China is 92nd on FIFA’s latest world rankings; 39 places below South Korea and 44 below Japan. That may help explain the appointment of Cai Zhenhua, vice-president of the State General Administration of Sports (SGAS), i.e., the country’s sports vice-minister, as head of the scandal-tainted China Football Association. Cai is a former table tennis world champion who is credited with making China a world power in that sport as a coach. His new task will be to rebuild the reputation of Chinese football both on and off the field. “The stern reality of Chinese soccer forces us to make complete changes. I am burdened with a colossal task,” he says. Quite.

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Anelka Slinks Off From Shanghai Shenhua

One migrant worker is on the move ahead of New Year, but won’t be coming back. Nicholas Anelka, the French footballer who joined Shanghai Shenhua at the beginning of 2012, is returning to Europe. He is moving to Juventus of Turin after playing just 22 games for the Shanghai club. Shenhua finished the season ninth in the Super League. The sulky striker scored just three goals, and failed to fulfill the hopes that he would be among a wave of star names to revive the league as it recovered from corruption and match-fixing scandals.

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China Railway Construction Corp. Buys Into Inter Milan

Kenneth Huang of QSL Sports, Ms Kamchi Li and vice-president of China Railway Construction Corp.'s 15th Bureau Group Co., Ltd., new directors of Internazionale Holding S.r.l. with and Inter's majority shareholder Massimo Moratti. Chinese companies build sports stadia all over the world, though usually in developing nations not in one of Europe’s larger economies. So this Bystander is not sure whether state-owned China Railway Construction Corp.’s decision to become part of a Chinese investor group that is about to become the second largest shareholder of Italian football powerhouse Inter Milan–and get to build its new stadium–says more about it or the parlous state of the Italian economy.

The deal values the Italian team at $600 million, which would make it one of the 10 most valuable football clubs. The Chinese investor consortium, which includes QSL Sports, run by Kenneth Huang Jianhua (above left), a 15% stake. The lady in the center of the photo is China Railway Construction’s Kamchi Li; Inter’s Massimo Moratti is to the right. Huang and Li, along with financier Fabrizio Rindi, are joing the board of the club’s holding company following the deal. The Moratti family, which has been looking for outside investment for the club for some time, will remain the controlling shareholder of the football club.

China Railway Construction, for the benefit of younger readers, is the old railways construction arm of the People’s Liberation Army. It is now a state-owned enterprise with a Hong Kong listing.

Inter currently shares the venerable but municipal-owned Giuseppe Meazza stadium, better known still by its original name, the San Siro, with its cross-town rival AC Milan. But Inter’s president Massimo Moratti has long wanted to move his club to a home of its own. Now he has some one to build it.

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The 90M Yuan Migrant Worker

Former Chelsea football star Didier Drogba (C) arrives at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, east China, July 14, 2012. Drogba will take up his new role in Shanghai Shenhua FC. (Xinhua/Fan Jun)Our man amidst the muddied oafs tells us that Didier Drogba, the Ivorian Coast football star, received an enthusiastic reception at Pudong airport (above) when he arrived to join his new club, struggling Shanghai Shenhua. Drogba is the latest of a number of highly paid foreign stars, albeit mostly past the zenith of their careers, to ply their trade in the China Super League. The league is seeking both to restore some of the lustre lost in a widespread corruption and match-fixing scandal and to improve its low playing standards. Drogba will earn a reported 1.9 million yuan ($300,000) a week for such reconditioning services.

Though Drogba’s earnings are not our of line for a top player, we remain bemused by the convention of quoting footballers’ pay as weekly wages as if these young multimillionaires were still tradesmen. Drogba will be earning the equivalent of 90 million yuan a year. That is 3,600 times the average salary of a Chinese migrant worker. It is also, according to a report on the BBC, four and a half times Shanghai Shenhua’s annual income from ticket sales and advertising, which was just 20 million last year.

Wealthy individuals are being encouraged to take over the Super League’s clubs and infuse them with transforming cash, Zhu Jun, the colourful Irish-Chinese online video gaming millionaire in Shanghai Shenhua’s case. Drogba, and his teammate France international, Nicholas Anelka, will be no strangers to that. Both are former employees of Chelsea, the English Premier League club and current European champions, whose purchase by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich in 2003 triggered the latest inflationary round of billionaires flashing their cash at Europe’s top clubs.

So concerned is UEFA, European football’s governing body, that such concentrations of private wealth in a few clubs will destroy the competitiveness of the professional game in Europe–and with it UEFA’s golden goose–that it is planning to introduce financial fair play rules to limit clubs from spending more than they earn. If rich owners continue to subsidize the game in China, the Super League, too, will eventually have to face up to the same issue. Of course, there has to be a competitive league in the first place to destroy.

There is one reason, though, that that day of reckoning may be put off for a while. Beijing harbours hopes of hosting FIFA’s World Cup in 2026 or, more realistically, in 2030. The announcement of the winning hosting bids will likely be in 2018, and success would be a feather in the cap of President presumptive Xi Jinping, reputedly a keen football fan, towards the end of his term office. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 suggest there is little doubt that China could stage football’s showpiece event, but neither Beijing nor FIFA would want the embarrassment of a poor performance and early exit by the China national team. As ever, money, politics and sport are close bedfellows.

Footnote: As so many highly paid professional footballers profess, Drogba says his latest move isn’t about the money, but playing in China “for a whole new experience.” We, too, think we could enjoy pretty much any new experience for 1.9 million yuan a week, and it wouldn’t be about the money for us, either. Honest.

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Former Top Football Officials Convicted Of Corruption

Another raft of sentences has been handed down by courts in four cities in Liaoning  as authorities continue to clean up China’s corruption-plagued professional football. Those convicted include two former heads of the league, the most senior figures from the sport to have been put on trial.

Nan Yong and his predecessor Xie Yalong were both sentenced to 10-and-a-half years in jail for accepting bribes. Former national team manager, Wei Shaohui, received a similar sentence. All three will also pay fines via the confiscation of assets. Four former players on the national team were sentenced to up to six years’ jail and fined for taking bribes and match fixing. The total of eleven convictions in this round follow 39 sentences handed down previously (full list).

The anti-corruption drive in the sport started in 2009, leading to dozens of referees, players, officials and coaches being arrested for match-fixing, bribe-taking and illegal gaming. The structure of the sport is also being reorganized to break the monopoly grip of the Chinese Football Association as regulator and operator of all aspects of the game in China. For a country that is investing money and effort into reflecting its national pride in its emerging global power in the mirror of its sporting prowess–and claims to have invented football–the confluence in the game of corruption and low sporting standing is of too great importance to the Party leadership for it to be a mere spectator, even if 2026 or even 2030, the years in which China’s leaders dream of landing FIFA World Cup, seem a long way off.

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One Law, Two Systems

The law is ruling overtime in China, and doing so under several spotlights that cast it in an uneven light.

Xie Yalong, the 56 year old former head of China’s professional football league, has just gone on trial, the most senior official to date in the corruption scandal that has engulfed the sport and captured the attention of a nation. Dozens of referees, players, officials and coaches have been arrested since an anti-corruption investigation started in 2009. Xie has been charged with taking more than 1.7 million yuan ($270 million) in bribes. His successor, Nan Yong, faces similar charges.

Xie’s defence is that he is guilty but not as guilty as charged, and that he is a victim of the legal system, having been mistreated during the investigation. It is a line that resonates with many of the public, who are familiar with local official corruption and the heavy handed treatment that can be meted out to those who run up against it. As is emerging in the case of Bo Xilai, the disgraced former Party boss of Chongqing who is now being very publicly subjected to the rule of law, that can be heavy handed in the extreme. Some of those convicted during Bo leadership in the city are now petitioning to have their convictions overturned. Meanwhile, two officials from Wukan had been expelled from the Communist Party over illegal land deals that eventually led to the social uprising that saw locals run Party officials out of their town last year. Eighteen  others are being dealt with under the Party’s disciplinary procedures, a reminder that there are parallel systems of punishment.

 

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More Convictions In China’s Soccer Bribes Scandal

Another raft of sentences has been handed down in the bribes-taking scandal that has plagued Chinese football. Most prominent among the latest 39 convictions are:

  • Yang Yimin, the former deputy chief of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), who has been sentenced to ten and a half years in prison for taking bribes totaling 1.3 million yuan ($206,000). He will also have personal property worth 200,000 yuan confiscated.
  • Zhang Jianqiang, former head of the referees’ committee, who has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for taking bribes totalling 2.7 million yuan. He will have  personal property worth 250,000 yuan confiscated.
  • Li Zhimin, former president of Shaanxi Guoli Club, who has beeb sentenced to five years in prison for taking bribes totaling 2.5 million yuan. He has had personal property worth 250,000 yuan confiscated.

Earlier in the week, China’s former top referee, Lu Jun, was sentenced to five and a half years in jail for accepting bribes. Trials are still pending for several more former CFA officials, including former vice president Nan Yong and his predecessor Xie Yalong, and the former head of the national team, Wei Shaohui.

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China’s Black Whistles Get Jail Time

Lu Jun , one of the 36 referees for the 2002 World Cup, takes a group photo with Bora Milutinovic, China's national soccer team's head coach, and other members of the team in Kunming, capital city of southwest China's Yunnan Province, April 26, 2002.  (Xinhua Photo/Tan Xipeng)Time has been blown on the Golden Whistle. Lu Jun, who earned that nickname when he was one of the country’s leading soccer referees, has been sentenced to five and a half years in jail for taking more than RMB710,000 ($113,000) in bribes to fix matches between 1999 and 2003. He is also to have personal property worth RMB100,000 confiscated. Lu is the man on the left of the Xinhua file picture to the right, taken in 2002, the year he became the first Chinese to officiate in a World Cup Finals.

Lu was one of nine convicted on corruption charges relating to Chinese football, whose professional soccer leagues have been plagued with allegations of gambling, match fixing and corrupt referees for years. The most severe sentence imposed in this latest batch of convictions was seven years imprisonment handed down to another Black Whistle, as corrupt referees are known, Huang Junjie. He is to have RMB200,000 of personal property confiscated. The former manager of the top professional league, the Super League, Lu Feng, is to serve six and a half years for corruption.

Other cases outstanding include the trials of Zhang Jianqiang, ex-director of the referees committee of the Chinese Football Association (CFA), and a former CFA vice-president, Yang Yimin. Both men’s trials started in December. (Update: Their sentences have now been handed down.)

Some 20 referees, players, officials and coaches have been arrested in a crackdown that stared in 2009 to cleanse the scandal-tainted game. These include former CFA vice-president Nan Yong, who was arrested in March 2010, and his predecessor Xie Yalong. They are still awaiting trial.

Several top-flight clubs, including Shandong Luneng, Shanghai Shenhua, Henan Jianye, Changchun Yatai and Jiangsu Shuntian, were implicated in the scandal. Shanghai Shenhua, for which French international Nicolas Anelka has recently signed, spent nearly $1 million bribing officials and referees such as Lu, the court in Dandong in Liaoning trying Lu was told.

The corruption scandals have overshadowed a dismal performance on the field by China’s national team. Its men’s side has failed to qualify for the next World Cup in Brazil, as it failed to do for the previous two. It also failed to qualify for the London Olympics tournament later this year, as did even its women’s team, which has been a rare beacon of success for Chinese teams in recent years. Even more humbling, China’s national team ranks 76th in the world on FIFA’s rankings. Neighbors Japan and South Korea rank 30th and 34th respectively.

As well as cleaning up the professional game and restoring the luster of the Super League by importing stars like Anelka, the education and sports ministry has launched an aggressive youth development program, including bringing in Jan Riekerink, who was previously coach of the storied Ajax youth team in his native Holland. Meanwhile, more than 100 promising young players have been sent to top professional clubs in Europe and South America in the hope that they or their successors can form the nucleus of a national side that could compete in a World Cup on Chinese soil, still dreamed of by the CFA for 2026.

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China’s Soccer Needs Its Yao Ming

We are still trying to work out who has got the best end of this export deal. Corinthians, a top professional football team in Brazil, has signed Chen Zhizhao from Nanchang Hengyuan on a two-year loan. Chen will be the first Chinese to play in the Brazilian league.

The diminutive 23 year old striker has sufficient talent to have spent the last six months in a development camp for promising Chinese players in Portugal, giving him a smattering of Portuguese that will be helpful at his new club. But Corinthians make no secret of the fact that Chen will be no more than a squad player. Their main reason for taking him on is to raise the club’s profile in China. Not that there is anything wrong in that. Professional football is a business and plenty of European teams have take on Asian players for just such marketing purposes, knowing that if they become first team regulars it will be a bonus.

The most successful examples of Chinese playing abroad are probably Li Tie and Sun Jihai in the English Premier League in the early 2000s. Manchester United signed Dong Fangzhuo from Dalian Shidein 2004, hoping to repeat in China the marketing success they have had in South Korea with Park Ji-sung, but Dong never made the grade as a player. That may be the challenge for Chen in Brazil, and limit Corinthians return on their investment.

Our man in the world of muddied oafs says the real prize for foreign clubs among China’s rising generation of players is Deng Zhuoxiang, a 22 year old midfielder who plays for Shandong Luneng but the transfer price being asked for him is intentionally prohibitive. Yet what China’s troubled domestic game really needs now, even as it brings in top foreign stars like France international striker Nicholas Anelka, is a homegrown player to star for a top club in a top foreign league, just as Yao Ming’s success in the NBA in the U.S. boosted basketball at home.

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