Dr. Xia Jiantong, or Tony to his friends, completed the takeover of Aston Villa to make Chinese influence in England official. There is becoming a fast trend for wealthy Chinese to invest in Football clubs in Europe, but why now? Let’s take a look at this behemoth of a nation looking to enter the globes biggest sport, and how they are trying to do it.
Tony Xia’s takeover is the first full takeover by a Chinese investor in England. The initial investment of £60 will rise to £75m as well as potential add-ons depending on the successes of the club. There was much controversy over his ability to pass the fit and proper test set by the Premier League. It is in place to vet owners to see if they are capable of financing their venture. While his finances are never revealed Xia has claimed he wants to make Aston Vila the biggest name in football in China and as big as Barcelona and Madrid. This either shows an incredible ambition and wealth or a naivety of European football and the English game.
It is not just England that are attracting the investors however with a host of clubs across Europe attracting China’s richest. Inter Milan were recently bought by Retail Group Suning which are owned partially by giant Alibaba. The club has been chosen based on its supposed 130m fans already in China, a nice platform to build on. It is thought that investing in a European Club is a short cut to showing China that your entity is a global one. It is also seen as a power move for men looking for some political favour. Wian Jianlin, China’s richest man, started the whole goldrush in January 2015 buying a 20% stake in Atletico Madrid. Other clubs with notable investments include ADO Den Haag, Espanyol, Sochaux and Slavia Prague.
You may be asking yourself why are they coming over and especially why now? Well the answer actually involves the Communist Party of China. It’s General Secretary Xi Jinping is a well know soccer fan and has clearly been sick of seeing a nation of 1.4 billion people being perennial under achievers in football. He wants to recreate the same success that the country has achieved at the Olympic Games. The Country went from not participating in 1956-1980 to dominating at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with 100 medals and topping the table. Something you wouldn’t see bookmakers give odds for anymore. Xi Ping has been encouraging the Chinese Super League to spend money, with 2016 seeing them spending more than the Premier League in transfer fees! The progression of the national game has become national policy and these investments are part of this plan. The Chinese owned clubs will have Chinese players in their youth groups in the hope the experience will accelerate their progress.
Xi Jinping has also set out a task to win the World Cup by 2050. This is very high aspirations indeed. If there was any country on earth to do this I would say it is China because of their financial muscle. They are the second biggest economy in the world behind USA, but the Americans do not prioritise ‘Soccer’. The problem China will have is that unlike synchronised diving or rhythmic gymnastics the rest of the world play football, and have had rather a long time to practice. This is not what the fanatical Chinese football fans will want to be told and belief is important, but they themselves are aware of the big task even if Xi Jinping is not. There is an old joke in China that goes:
A Chinese man dies and goes to Heaven. God tells him: “I can grant you one wish.”
The man says: “How about sinking Japan to the bottom of the ocean?”
God: “That is too difficult. Do you have another wish?”
The man: “Then I wish for the Chinese team to win the World Cup.”
God pauses for a moment, then says: “Ok, tell me your other wish again.”