Profundity is not a quality often associated with football managers, especially in a week in which Newcastle boss Alan Pardew head-butted an opposition player.
However, in a recent interview with Simon Kuper in the Financial Times, Real Madrid’s coach Carlo Ancelotti revealed a far more cerebral side. A man who has seen his fair share of successes – with AC Milan, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain – Ancelotti sounded remarkably grounded about his sport.
As he put it: “Football is the most important of the less important things in the world.”
Nonetheless, passions can still run high among fans of the sport. As the Italian’s comment also makes plain, the strength of a country’s domestic league or the progress of its national team can become obsessive sources of conversation – and even a crude measure of national virility in many countries (the US is one of the exceptions, of course).
As regular readers of WiC will be well aware, this is definitely the case in China. Stung by the country’s poor showing at football, the government intervened to try to root out corruption and match-fixing two years ago. That focus was amplified by the fact that China’s president, Xi Jinping is known to be a keen fan – and like ordinary soccer supporters he’s embarrassed that his nation of 1.3 billion cannot even qualify for the World Cup.
But as we have also made plain, things have been looking up for Chinese football. Fuelled by the financial firepower and enthusiasm of property tycoon Xu Jiayin, Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League last November – the first time that a team from China had lifted the trophy since the competition was established in 2002 (see WiC216).
And in a further sign of the game’s improving condition, more corporate money is being directed at the sport.
Shenzhen-based firm Coship is one of the firms intent on boosting Chinese football. As the Oriental Morning Post reports, it was involved in a bidding war with the better-known financial services giant Ping An to become the Chinese Super League’s (CSL) sponsor. Coship makes smartphones, tablets and smart televisions, and claims to be a global leader in the sale of set-top boxes for TVs. Until it tried to become the CSL’s lead sponsor, we had never heard of it at WiC (so its PR team can pat itself on the back for bidding, at least). But the relatively low profile may have counted against Coship in the bidding war. The league’s shareholders unanimously approved the Ping An bid, even though the insurer offered marginally less than Coship, says the Oriental Morning Post.
Mind you, Coship seems undeterred (unsurprisingly for a firm that announces its corporate mission is to “advance human civilisation”). Having lost out on the naming rights, it negotiated an alternate deal to become the league’s official supplier. In this capacity it will provide the clubs with its technology solutions, including giving players its smartphones (pre-installed with China’s new homegrown operating system – see WiC225 for more).
The combined sponsorships amount to Rmb600 million ($98 million) over four seasons, reports Xinhua. (Yanjing Brewery has also signed up to have its name associated with the China FA Cup.) CSL chairman Yu Hongchen said the deals affirm growing confidence in the future of Chinese football. A stronger league has seen interest grow too: Yu said a record 350 million viewed CSL games on TV last season, and that average attendances at games exceeded 20,000.
Meanwhile, China’s national team has a new coach, the Frenchman Alain Perrin. His appointment follows the sacking of Jose Antonio Camacho, a former Real Madrid boss lured with an annual salary of €3 million ($4.11 million). He was dismissed soon after China were pummelled 5-1 at home by Thailand – a humiliating result that coincided with Xi Jinping’s birthday.
After that scoreline, it was only a matter of time before the Spaniard was told adios. But WiC will now take bets on how long before it’s au revoir to Monsieur Perrin. As Sina Sports queries, it’s not clear why the Chinese Football Association picked him. After all, in 11 coaching assignments, none has lasted longer than eight months. Perrin’s stay as coach of the Qatar Olympic team was a mere five months (he was dismissed last November).
Nor is he well known in China. The Shenzhen Special Zone Daily reports that netizens looking to find out more about him were directed to a goalkeeper with Genoa or US politician Sarah Palin when they put the Chinese characters for his surname into search engine Baidu. Perrin is not one of world football’s “big names,” the newspaper acknowledged.
The view seems to be that Perrin might be a ‘transitional’ coach. Guangzhou Evergrande’s Marcello Lippi will step down at the end of the year, Sina Sports notes, and “the Italian has recently expressed a strong interest in the national football team, so there is a possibility he might take over then”.
The CFA also emerged somewhat chastened from its Camacho experience. It was widely criticised when it emerged that Camacho and his coaching staff were compensated with a Rmb51.5 million fee after his dismissal – and that the CFA had paid his tax bill too. That seemed a huge sum when the team had failed to perform. Xinmin Weekly declared of the compensation paid: “Can we trust the CFA to reform Chinese football if its officials can’t even negotiate a proper contract?”
This time round Sina thinks the CFA has inked a less controversial deal with Perrin: the salary will be below $1 million and his contract will be terminated with minimal compensation if the national team continues to underperform.
Thus for CFA officials appointing Perrin has limited downside and possible upside – with the unspoken hope (perhaps) that Lippi signs on as manager in early 2015. Indeed, having turned Guangzhou into Asian champions and coached Italy to World Cup victory in 2006, the Italian’s arrival would lift morale hugely. With his experience of working successfully with Chinese players at the league level, no manager is better qualified to help China secure a place at the 2018 World Cup finals in Russia.
Luckily for Chinese football fans, the self-confident Lippi also likes a challenge, which raises the chances this scenario might play out.
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