The Chinese Super League is the same age as the Hyundai A-League, both competitions celebrate their tenth anniversary in 2014. Obviously both nations have very different population bases on which to call upon in terms of support and playing personnel, but there are some comparisons worth looking at.
The A-League is made up of ten teams, the Chinese Super League has sixteen teams. The average attendance in the A-League for 2013 was 12,707. In the CSL it was 18,571. In the A-League fifty percent of the teams failed to achieve an average gate of 10,000, and only one averaged over 20,000, that was Melbourne Victory with 23,789. In the CSL two teams averaged under 10,000. six averaged over 20,000 with Champions Guangzhou Evergrande averaging 40,428.
In both leagues there is a limit on the number of overseas players per club. In the A-League there is a maximum of five players – although Western Sydney Wanderers have been allowed more – from outside Australia and in the Wellington Phoenix’s case outside of New Zealand. In the CSL although there are also five per team one slot is for a player from one of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) countries. A rule that may well benefit Australia. In China a team can only use a maximum of four foreign players on the field each game, in Australia its five. The aim in China is to promote native player improvement and to conform to rules regarding international club competitions in the AFC, such as the Asian Champions League.
When it comes to the Asian Champions League both countries started off with two spots, in 2009 China’s allocation was increased to four while Australia remained at two. That was until 2012 when both countries were given three spots, this changed again in 2013 with Australia given one automatic spot and one play off spot, while China kept its three automatic places.
Australia has had one team make the final, Adelaide United in 2008 where they lost to Gamba Osaka from Japan. China too has only had one team make the final since the start of the Chinese Super League, Guangzhou Evergrande who won in 2013 beating FC Seoul from South Korea.
The two leagues stack up in many respects but one where the gap is very real is when it comes to recruitment and player contracts. Salaries in Chinese football when compared to other Chinese sports leagues are much higher. As a result, numerous quality young players from Serbia, Brazil, Honduras, and other Latin American regions are signed as the foreign players in the Chinese league. These players are then sold on by the Chinese clubs to top clubs in Europe and South America. For example Guangzhou Evergrande recently sold Lucas Barrios to Spartak Moscow for EUR7million. Dario Conca also left the club this year to sign for Fluminese, the transfer fee has not been disclosed but is believed to be in the region of USD5million. When he was signed by Guangzhou it is worth mentioning that the deal saw him become the third highest paid player in the world behind only Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.
This is where the A-League cannot possibly be compared. Rather than signing up and coming talent that they can sell back to clubs overseas they have opted to try and pull punters through the turnstiles with ageing stars of yesteryear, who are well past their use by date and who once they stop playing in Australia are unlikely to play again.
Interestingly both countries opted for a franchise model when setting up their league competitions, but this is where the real difference comes into play. In China, probably because of the population base they opted for a corporate franchise model, one that saw corporations with plenty of capital owning the clubs. In Australia they opted for private owners who wanted to become involved in the game for a myriad of reasons. None it would appear have utilised the pulling power of the game to the maximum, virtually all the clubs are still losing money, ten years into the league. Sadly the the word on the street is that one owner is again considering walking away at the end of the 2013/14 season as he can no longer sustain the losses at the club he owns as his primary business interests suffer.
Population undoubtedly plays a big part in attracting ownership such as the kind the clubs enjoy in China, but with corporate dollars behind them they can attract top players who in turn attract the crowds and then can recoup money on that investment when they sell the players on.
Many will say that Australia has a unique problem in that football has to compete with three other codes of football, Rugby League, Rugby Union and Australian Rules. China however also has a number of sports vying for pole position in terms of popularity, and Badminton, Basketball and table tennis are the sport’s main rivals, while sports such as tennis, volleyball and boxing are all on the rise with success being achieved on the world stage.
It is interesting to compare the two leagues as they approach their tenth birthdays together, and one cannot help feeling that the reason success appears to be coming quicker in China is because they have grasped the fact that football is and always will be about the collective and not the individual.