Friday, April 22, 2011

Is 2011 a rebound year for Chinese football?

Asian Football Feast's Chinese correspondent, Zhang Bin, takes a look at the latest reforms in Chinese Football aimed at making it a powerhouse of Asian Football.

The season opener at Galaxy Stadium between
Guangzhou Evergrande and Dalian Shide
After the first three rounds of the new season, the Chinese Super League has attracted 482,827 fans through the gates, with a average attendance of 20,188, the highest record since the league restructured from C-League Jia-A to CSL in 2004.

It might be a little early to say there will be a significant increase in CSL attendance, but attendance growth in recent years has generally been in an upward direction.

Guangzhou Evergrande moved their home games from the 30,000 seat Yuexiushan Stadium to Galaxy Stadium, which has a capacity of 60,161. Their attendances have increased from an average of around 20,000 to 40,000. The season opener against former CSL giant Dalian Shide attracted 53,100 fans and the match against Beijing Guo'an attracted a respectable 38,612 spectators in pouring rain.

Some unforeseen circumstances hit Hangzhou Greentown, forcing the club to move their home games from the Yellow Dragon stadium to the cities of Yiwu and Jiaxing.

The Yellow Dragon stadium will be refurbished this year for the 8th annual Disabled People’s Games to be held at the stadium this October. Hangzhou doesn't have a second stadium that complies with the CSL's standards for stadiums. Hangzhou's average attendance, as a result, has dropped from around 15,000 to 7,000.

The CSL was beset by scandal is 2010, with the scandal going right to the top of the CFA. Three former Vice-Presidents, together with some referees and players, have been arrested due to match fixing and gambling.

But things are getting better this year; the increase of attendance is a reflection of the image.

Fans now talk more about the game itself than the scandals. You could say the CSL is on a road to revival as it has a huge domestic football market, and probably the biggest football market in Asia.

Still a lot of hard work needs to be done.

At the top level the new look CFA, CSL Committee and the C-League Committee have draw up a series of plans in order to reconstruct the league system. It has placed a lot of demands on clubs.

The CFA published the “Access critera for professional league clubs”, the second edition of the regulations, with the first edition published in 2002. The criteria includes 19 provisos, including:

  • Clubs must be independent legal entities;
  • In youth team structure, Clubs must have U19, U17, U15 and U10 teams;
  • Clubs must have their own training base, with at least 4 standard pitches. At least one of them must have lights;
  • CSL clubs must invest at least 3m CNY (AUD$425,000) into youth development, and C-League D1 clubs must invest 2m CNY (AUD$286,000) into youth development;
  • Clubs should have their own stadium, if the stadium is loan from the local government the contract term should be at least three years;
  • CSL clubs must have a minimum season revenue of 30m CNY (AUD$4.3m), and C-League D1 clubs must have a minimum season revenue of 15m CNY (AUD$2.14m).

Starting from this season, the CSL requires a minimum season budget of 40 million CNY (AUD$6.1m) for each club. That means players may awardedca higher salary and clubs must spend more on facilities and youth academies.

Club owners are willing to splash the caash. It is reported the total season budget of the 16 clubs reached AUD$244.5m, with Guangzhou Evergrande announcing a season budget of AUD$76.2m, the highest in CSL history.

The CSL Committee forced all CSL clubs to participate in the CSL Reserve League.

The reserve team will play a day after the Super League encounter at the home teams' training center. It provides game time for second choice players, allowing them to keep match fitness. Priot to this season clubs were given the choice whether to compete in it or not.

The CFA published working targets for the next 5 years and a development plan for the next 10 years of Chinese Professional Football in February.

It wants to create a sounder base for the nation's domestic football by expanding the CSL to 18 teams, the second tier (C-League Division One) to 18 or 20, and the third tier (C-League Division Two) to 22 or 24 in the next three to five years.

Currently the CSL has 16 clubs; C-League D1 has 14 and will expand to 16 by next year. In order to have more teams in C-League D2, apart the 10 pro-clubs in 2010 season, the C-League Committee will allow U-21 teams of Provincial Sports Bureaus and U-21 team of CSL clubs (i.e. B Team) to compete in the new season of D2.

That will increase the number of teams to 22. The league will be split into two separate leagues - the North League and the South League. The top eight of each league (16 in total) qualify for the CFA Cup 2012; the top four teams of each league (8 in total) qualify for D2 Championship play-offs with the top two teams being promoted to D1. The third placed team will enter a Promotion/Relegation play-off against the bottom team of D1.

After the Chinese Football Congress, Vice-Chairman of Beijing Guo'an, Zhang Lu, commented on the expansion of D2, saying: "It is right to make the third-tier league the biggest one to make the foundation of Chinese football more solid."

The top division of amateur CAL National Championship will be re-established as the fourth level of the professional system - the C-League Division 3, which will be semi-professional.

The CFA announce Toshiba as the
major sponsor of the new FA Cup
The CFA has also announced it will re-launch the FA Cup, with Toshiba signing on as the major sponsor.

The FA Cup was abandoned in 2007 due to a schedule clash with Olympic Games preliminaries and a lack of sponsorship. The 2011 FA Cup will involve 30 clubs from the CSL and C-League D1, but in the long term it will be open to all of the professional clubs and the top teams of D3. Even amateur clubs or University teams will have the chance to enter the preliminary rounds.

The CFA believes the restart of the Chinese FA Cup and expansion of the professional league system will offer young players more opportunities to play at a higher level and provide the National Team a larger player pool.

The CFA and CSL Committee also plans to re-establish the League Cup, which will most likely involve all of the CSL and C-League D1 clubs, and will probably be named the Chinese Club Champions Cup.

The aim of these reforms is to make the Chinese Super League one of the best leagues in Asia.

Patience is still required, but it at least bring hope to fans and the media that Chinese football is on its way to a new life.


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