They are the two biggest world economies and according to the last FIFA Big Count, the two largest playing nations of soccer. So why is it that we continue to see the US and China playing the continued role of sleeping giants within the world game?
The good news is this might be about to change with both nations signaling a change of direction after disappointing zone championships (yes coming second is a disappointment given the Gold Cup is traditionally a Mexico vs US affair) and China being eliminated from World Cup 2014 qualifying. With an obvious eye on the future both countries have appointed high profile (and more importantly proven international) coaches in Jurgen Klinsmann and Jose Antonio Camacho from Spain.
But one nation has gone that step further, has drawn a line in the sand and is putting in motion an audacious bid to be a force on the world scene as well. Sadly that nation is not the US, it’s our rivals in the East, and it relates directly to the state of their domestic competition.
After reading a great article by Fox Soccer’s John Duerden on the state of the game in China – titled ‘Investment increasing soccer’s profile in China’ – the question that immediately sprung to mind was ‘why isn’t this approach being replicated in the US’?
Before we continue – some insights into the Chinese game by way of Duerden’s article:
- 2011 ended with Shanghai Shenhua making Nicolas Anelka one of the highest paid players in the world
- A genuine and committed fight against corruption was a pre-requisite to allow the right kind of money to enter the game.
- For a number of years, Chinese clubs have been outspending those in Korea and Japan. Now though, they are outspending even those in the oil-rich west of the continent and compared to UAE and Qatar
- China has an established football infrastructure with a massive population that likes the game. 45,000 regularly watched Guangzhou take the title and in 2012 the Chinese Super League will become undisputedly Asia’s most-watched league
- The long-term benefit of attracting the likes of Anelka and anybody else to comes to China, may really lie – in helping to make the local game exciting and glamorous
While we acknowledge that players such as David Beckham and Robbie Keane probably did not come cheap it still leaves obvious questions about the long term investment strategies of the game here in the US. In the short term, there is no doubt these players help promote the game but is this kind of growth sustainable?
And that’s not the only obvious questions that fans will be asking. So let’s begin an honest debate on the following;
- Does the league invest in big international names to help grow the exposure of the MLS?
- Does attracting world class players deliver significant ROI?
- How is the credibility of a league calculated?
- Do superstars have an impact on the grassroots of the game?
- Do they help keep young talent in the country? Help with mentoring our rising stars?
And the list can go on and on.
The most important element to the article however was the realization by Chinese officials that ‘years of sustained investment and patience at the grassroots level’ was the most important element to any future growth of the game. This revelation was also backed up by former players and sponsors. Former great Hao Haidong has urged the FA to follow Japan’s youth development system, sports companies such as Adidas have been desperate for some consistent and long-term youth programs for years and is ready to invest at the grass-roots and most encouragingly of all, league sponsors Dalian Wanda have stumped up $77 million to be invested in youth football and coaching. The government too has promised to encourage more children to take up the sport continued Duerden.
In the end two measures essentially establish a country’s place in the global soccer order: strong national team programs and a strong professional game, starting with a robust, tier-one association. China is now adopting this theory while at the same time acknowledging the grassroots are the real key to unlocking its potential.
Maybe a few things might be learnt from the blueprint our friends in the east are developing because at the end of the day, like China, the potential for American soccer is unlimited given the size of the country, given the wealth of the country, given the demographics of the country. Only time will tell.
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China: Approx 7 trillion
USA: Approx 15 trillion
China: 26.1 million (711k registered)
USA: 24.4 million (4.2 million registered)
FIFA World Rankings: