The flow of Chinese billionaires seeking to invest in European clubs, especially the Premier League, must be sensitive to local feeling should they succeed in buying a team, a senior Chinese media executive warned.
Molly Li Mo, director of international and external relations at sports service platform Alisports, admitted in talks she had with European football powerbrokers at the SoccerEx Global Football Convention she had detected mixed feelings.
The businessmen from China, whose President Xi Jinping has made hosting the World Cup and also ultimately winning it as major priorities, have flexed their financial muscle in England.
They have in the past year bought clubs such as Premier League side West Brom and Championship duo Aston Villa and Wolves — whilst Chinese Super League clubs have become a major force in the transfer market.
“In my inter-actions here I felt there was both excitement and concerns,” she said.
“Each investor has its’ own motivation. My only pledge is when we (the Chinese) do invest we have to be very careful to respect local sentiment.
“There is a lot of culture and feeling surrounding these clubs. The buyer must be conscious they are not only serving Chinese football interests but also local ones.”
Tim Bridge, senior consultant at Deloitte SportsBusiness Group, concurred with that sentiment.
“We (Deloitte) believe that this place in time English Premier League clubs represent a very feasible return on investment,” he told AFP.
“But of course any owner taking over a club would need to balance the demands and needs associated with a club.”
Paul Duffen, former chairman of Hull City and who was in place when the club first played in China in 2009, said foreign investment was welcome so long as it was for the right reasons.
“They have to understand the reasons for buying the club. If it is a vanity tool it doesn’t always work,” he said.
“Also try to eliminate as many of the middle men as possible who are trying to get involved in the deal. Otherwise it becomes dysfunctional.
“The buyer must understand local culture and respect it.
“If they try and change it they will be knocking their head against a brick wall.”
Bridge said the Chinese could also learn a lot from English football in developing their own game back home.
A large delegation was in Manchester this week on a fact finding mission, visiting not only the Convention but also local clubs.
“For learning about grassroots development they can learn a lot about how to do it or not to do it in England,” he told AFP.
“They are willing to learn about the best practices on and off the pitch.”
Spain too is getting in on helping the Chinese develop the sport back in China, working alongside the Chinese Ministry of Education and supplying coaches to schools.
“For the Football Development project we have sent 40 coaches to schools in China and we have renewed the contract and will send 53 for next season,” said former Malaga and Real Madrid player Fernando Sanz, who is now general director for La Liga international projects.
“We are also advising the Chinese Super League to show them how we organise our leagues at both professional and amateur level.”
Bridge believes the Chinese Super League can make inroads in terms of where they lie internationally.
“The Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga are on one tier,” he said.
“Below those others are struggling, Scotland for instance, leagues that used to be very strong.
“There is an opportunity for the Chinese Super League to become among the top 10 leagues globally.” – Agence France-Presse