Asian football

Oscar and China: Can you really blame him?

IF THERE is any nationality of footballer that epitomises “have boots, will travel”, it is surely the Brazilian. They are everywhere – no matter where you go, you’ll find them in the squad, sometimes in some unusual places. As 2017 looms on the horizon, Chinese clubs may be about to add to the already lengthy list of Brazilians plying their trade in the Chinese Super League.

China has already lured some top name Brazilians to join the circus – Ramires, Hulk, Paulinho and Alex Teixeira have all signed for top Chinese clubs. Now Oscar, once heralded as one of the best young players in the world, looks set to join the exodus, at the age of 25.

Oscar is the subject of a EUR 60m bid from Shanghai International Port Group Football Club, the third most valuable club in China, according to Forbes, and currently managed by another Chelsea refugee, Andre Villas-Boas.

SIPG is the club that signed Hulk in June for EUR 55.8m from Zenit St. Petersburg. Media reports suggest that Hulk earns something like EUR 20m a year. He’s a classical hired gun having played in Brazil, Japan, Portugal and Russia before heading east to China.

You somehow thought Oscar was not that type of individual and that, at 25, he wasn’t ready for a “last pay day”. Money certainly talks in football and like his old team-mates, Ramires, the prospect of unlimited wealth will be playing its part in luring Oscar away.

However, should people begrudge a player earning as much as possible from the game? Why are footballers seen as any different from anyone else in trying to maximise their earning power from their employment. Football is not a vocation, and it is a short career.

Certainly, signing Oscar will be seen as a massive coup for China as it continues its relentless pursuit of footballing credibility. Any emerging league – the MLS is another – inevitably tries to by ready-made talent in order to improve the standard of its domestic game in a hurry. The usual script involves established players heading out to these developing countries towards the end of their careers. In the case of Oscar, he is approaching his peak years and his forthcoming move has been criticised for being transparently mercenary.

But at Chelsea, Oscar has been less important since his very first season. In his first season, 2012-13, he played 64 games, scoring 12 goals. A year later, he played 47 and scored 11. In the three seasons since, he has played 91 games and scored 15 goals. In 2016-17, he no longer seems to be part of Antonio Conte’s plans.

Conte himself said this past week that China represents a danger to the Premier League and other top leagues in being able to entice players away to Asia. But Chelsea will not be so unhappy about commanding such a big fee for a player who has been pushed to the fringe of the first team at Stamford Bridge. Securing EUR 60m will allow them to strengthen their squad as Conte’s league leaders start their run-in after the holiday period. Even clubs like Chelsea welcome a huge fee when they see it – and there was never going to be a European transfer of this size for the player.

And Oscar may not be the only big name that gets picked up in the New Year if recent transfer windows are a benchmark. China has made no secret of its global ambitions in football and these past few years, they have been shopping in Europe for talent. While people like Conte are fearful of such a development, this is an inevitable consequence of the globalisation of the game.

Indeed, clubs from Europe have long plundered other markets for cheap and often expensive players. China is using its financial clout to purchase ready-made players, allowing football to mirror the broader economy. Admittedly, the quality of football has a long way to go, but the sport is definitely on the rise – average attendances were 24,159 in 2016, more than double the figure for a decade ago. SIPG’s gates have risen from 10,000 in 2013 to 2018 in 2016.

While there’s no shortage of money, it is rumoured that the Chinese government are behind the move to snare Oscar. SIPG are backed by the Shanghai Port Authority, which is 61%-owned by the government of Shanghai. Apparently they are keen that Shanghai’s two Super League clubs, SIPG and Shenhua, start to make more noise and attract big-name signings – to promote the city.

So Oscar really could become the face of the Chinese Super League. As a current Brazilian international at the peak of his career, you can’t help feeling that the boy from Americana is going to be plastered all over billboards and TV. Never mind Shanghai, China as a whole will be looking to market the league through the arrival of Oscar, and he will be rewarded handsomely.

Categories: Asian football

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