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Poyet: China wants worldwide league

Uruguayan coaches Shanghai Shenhua

One of many star names moving to China

CNN  — 

Money appears to be no object in the Chinese Super League, as some of football’s biggest names are being lured to clubs that previously flew well under the radar of most fans.

Shanghai SIPG paid $63 million to sign Oscar from Chelsea, while Shanghai Shenhua made 33-year-old Carlos Tevez the highest paid player in the world, offering him reported wages of $765,000 – double the amount Cristiano Ronaldo earns.

But while the capture of big-name and big-money players has created waves around the football world, the gradual influx of highly-regarded coaches has caused little more than a ripple.

Going into the 2017 season, 13 out of the league’s 16 teams are managed by foreign coaches, including 2002 World Cup winner Luiz Felipe Scolari, English Premier League winner Manuel Pellegrini, multiple German Bundesliga champion Felix Magath and former Chelsea, Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg manager Andre Villas-Boas.

There’s also Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro and former Yugoslavia skipper Dragan Stojković, who was a European champion with Marseille.

Another former international star now coaching in China is Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan enjoyed a successful spell with Chelsea and won the Copa America as a player, before managing Brighton, Sunderland, AEK Athens and Real Betis.

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While many have written off the CSL as a lucrative payday for players wanting to wind down their careers, Poyet is happy to defend the Chinese government’s ambitious project of making the country a global football superpower.

“I think the league is getting better and better,” the new Shanghai Shenhua coach told CNN’s World Sport show ahead of this weekend’s opening round of games. “In the beginning, most people thought it was only about the money.

“It’s true there is plenty and it is difficult to explain it, but now they are bringing players that are younger, that are at the top of their form and the competition is becoming more and more difficult.

“So I think slowly what they are trying to do is make it a worldwide league, not only for the people in China but a league that everybody would like to watch all over the world.”

Domestic development

Led by president Xi Jinping, China is aiming to create a domestic sports economy worth $850 billion by 2025.

For the next stage of development of both the CSL and the Chinese national team, Poyet argues the key is to attract younger players.

“I think the government has put in plenty of interest,” the 49-year-old said. “It is trying to make sure that – there are so many people here and there are so many possibilities – the bigger football becomes, the more important it’s going to be, or the better it’s going to be for the national team.

“They’re trying to make an impact on the Chinese players and make the competition better by bringing in younger players like Axel Witsel and Oscar,” he added referring to the Belgium and Brazil internationals.

“We play this weekend the first game of the league against Roger Martinez who is only 22, a Colombian player. These signings make the Chinese players get better quicker and have a better national team.

“I think it’s more about football at the moment but, of course, to make people come here, they have to have a very, very strong economical push.”

Poyet was appointed by Shenhua just over two weeks after being sacked by Spain's Real Betis.


While he feels fortunate to live in the “magnificent and impressive” city of Shanghai, Poyet admits the move to China has taken some adjustment.

As well as adapting to new surroundings off the pitch, new rule changes mean CSL managers will now need to adapt on it.

A limit of three foreign players has been placed on all 16 teams, meaning Poyet will have to cut two of his five imports – including Tevez – from his match-day squad each week.

If Tevez is left twiddling his thumbs, could the Argentine end up regretting his move to China?

“Well I hope not,” Poyet says with a laugh. “He needs to play and he needs to do very well. At the moment he’s very happy, he’s adapting as well.

“It’s difficult for me, yes, as a manager. I like to make decisions but you try to make players happy and enjoy football, and every week I’m going to have to leave two foreigners in the stands, not even on the bench.

“To rotate will depend on results and how the team is doing.”

Oscar celebrates after scoring in Shanghai SIPG's 5-1 Asian Champions League win over Australia's Western Sydney Wanderers on February 28.

Ranieri to China?

There is now one unemployed manager in particular who will be looking for work.

Claudio Ranieri, who led Leicester City to a seemingly impossible Premier League title win last season, was sacked last week just nine months after his team was crowned champion of England.

While Poyet believes the Italian would be a leading candidate to make the move to China, he also admits he continues to be surprised by the unpredictability and ruthlessness of football.

“I think he would be one of the first names (to come),” Poyet said. “I hope nobody loses their job, okay, because we are in this world that if Claudio Ranieri can lose his job, anyone can lose their job, no?

“I can lose it tomorrow! I mean, how are you going to explain you losing your job when a person like Claudio, after what he’s done at Leicester, lost it?

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“It’s something that football is like nowadays, I think we don’t get surprised anymore. We just need to get on with it and expect the unexpected.”