Prior to this year the ‘hall of fame’ at Britain’s National Football Museum only had seven foreign players: Ossie Ardiles, Dennis Bergkamp, Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Gianfranco Zola and Peter Schmeichel.
Understandably eyebrows were raised when Sun Jihai was inducted to join this illustrious list (in the ‘special’ category) in October. The Manchester-based museum said it reflects the achievements of the Chinese defender, who played 130 games for Manchester City between 2002 and 2008, in promoting English football in China. However, the Daily Mail reported that “once the bosses knew the Chinese were coming [a reference to President Xi Jinping’s recent visit] they decided to put a Chinese player in the hall”.
Sun’s induction has now acquired even more sense following another Chinese tie-up courtesy (again) of Manchester City. The English football club’s owner sold a 13% stake in City Football Group (CFG), the parent firm of Man City (which also owns New York City FC and Japan’s Yokohama Marinos), to a Chinese consortium led by China Media Group (CMC) for £265m ($397 million). The move values CFG at $3 billion, on par with City’s old rival Manchester United.
Manchester United claims it has more than 100 million fans in China. But with the blue side of Manchester now partly owned by a powerful Chinese state firm, the ‘noisy neighbours’ are just getting noisier. “Chinese capital has now converged with oil money from the Middle East. Is there any club more tuhao [a term for ‘new money’, see WiC217] than Manchester City?” a netizen writes on Man City’s official weibo page. “It will put to rest any more rumours about the Chinese taking over Manchester United,” another internet user added.
There is also speculation that a Chinese football team could be the next addition to CFG’s worldwide network. “Beijing Guoan FC is the most likely candidate given Citic Capital, owner of that club, is also part of the consortium investing in CFG,” Tencent Sports notes. Some media outlets have even suggested that the Beijing-based football club could be sold to CFG for about $300 million.
“We need a big team to compete with Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao. The Chinese Super League [CSL] is getting boring,” a netizen writes, referring to the fact that Guangzhou Evergrande has won the league five years in a row.
The impact of the CMC-CFC pairing is being felt in Hong Kong too, with fans sharing reports from British media that CFC could create a new team that might be based in Hong Kong and yet compete in the CSL. But given the recent friction between Hong Kong football fans and their mainland brethren (see WiC295) this may not be such a bright idea. “Man City is going to be the most hated team in Hong Kong,” a Hong Kong fan suggests.
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