Evergrande’s financial troubles threatens its soccer club, Guangzhou FC

Society & Culture

China’s most decorated club soccer team is on the verge of collapse.

Illustration by Alex Santafé

China’s most successful soccer club, Guangzhou FC, is on the verge of collapse, and is seeking a government bailout. The club is owned by debt-ridden China Evergrande Group, and has transfer-listed all of its players in a desperate attempt to raise cash to stave off administration.

According to Bloomberg, the Guangdong government is looking to take over a 10 to 15 percent stake in the club after the head of the soccer association in the province asked the provincial government for help. According to the report, a state-owned enterprise would acquire the rest of the club.

It is understood that many of the highly-paid stars at the club are plotting an exit, with many looking to leave China and the Chinese Super League (CSL) after wages went unpaid last month. You can expect head coach Fabio Cannavaro to follow as well, as he’s one of the highest paid coaches in the world.

Evergrande purchased the then-second-tier Guangzhou club for 100 million RMB ($15.5 million) in 2010. Since, Guangzhou FC (as it was rebranded before the season) has been at the forefront of a boom in Chinese soccer spending a decade ago. Reports are that it loses between 1 to 2 billion RMB a year ($155 million to $310 million).

The club made international headlines in 2011 after it was revealed that it was paying Argentina U20 player Dario Conca the third-highest salary in the world, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Last year, it began construction of a 100,000-plus-seat stadium that would be the biggest in the world. It’s unclear whether that project will finish by next year, as scheduled.

The club has also spearheaded China’s drive for naturalized soccer players to boost its flagging national team with stars such as Brazilians Elkeson (艾克森 Ài Kèsēn), Aliosio (洛国富 Luò Guófù), and Alan Carvalho (阿兰 Ā Lán), with Englishman Ty Browning (蒋光太 Jiǎng Guāngtài) joining for big money in the past few years.

None of these players are expected to stay with the club. While nothing is certain right now — with the club’s short-term fate tied to Evergrande — the spending will definitely be curbed.

Last year’s CSL champion, Jiangsu FC — which beat Evergrande in the finals — folded earlier this year due to financial troubles. Few could have expected, back then, that the same fate might await Guangzhou FC.

Jiangsu FC and the troubled state of Chinese soccer


Raducanu begins to build Chinese brand

British teenage tennis sensation Emma Raducanu has already started to build her presence in China following her stunning U.S. Open victory.

The 18-year-old was quick to launch her Weibo account — China’s closest equivalent to Twitter — following her maiden Grand Slam title last week. In her first post, Raducanu told fans that she was very happy at the moment and would look to compete in China next year. (All the scheduled WTA events for China were canceled this year due to the pandemic.) She has gained more than 15,000 followers since the launch of her Weibo four days ago.

Raducanu, whose mother Renee is a Shenyang native, appeared on the U.S. Open’s Chinese social media channels following her U.S. Open win. “I wanted to say thank you,” she said. “I hope you liked watching my tennis. I’m really really excited right now … Goodbye, I love you.”

Many of the comments praised Raducanu’s Chinese, albeit with some gently poking fun at her “Dongbei” (northeast) accent.

In the aftermath of her victory, the hashtags “18-year-old ethnic Chinese young player wins U.S. open championship” and “Raducanu” were both viewed at least 200 million times each.

Chinese state media also praised the teen. “This smiley half-Chinese girl once proudly said it’s the Chinese style of inner faith that gave her the confidence,” and that “her mother instilled many good qualities in her,” state news agency Xinhua stated. She also appeared on CGTN to discuss her victory, as well as her Chinese heritage, telling the Chinese state media service that she switches “between Mandarin and English. It’s cool because I have a secret language with my mom whenever I don’t want my dad or anyone else to understand.”

While it’s clear that her personal brand in China is tied to her success on the court, the Brit has already been touted as a future billion-dollar star. Liu Lingling, managing director of  China Sport Business Consulting, based in Beijing, told The i newspaper that Raducanu could be “very successful commercially.”

Liu noted that Raducanu has already brought in the right people and is managed by IMG super agent Max Eisenbud, who made Lǐ Nà 李娜 and Maria Sharapova into global household names. “The sky is her limit, she is in the good hands of IMG,” Dr. Liu said. “IMG has big business in China since 1994 when China launched the Chinese (Football) Super League, I’m sure they will help her in that market.”


Other Stories:

14-year-old Quan Hongchan named in Forbes China’s 30-under-30 (SCMP)

China’s elite snowboarders herald new wave of Olympians (Reuters)

IOC urges Olympic teams to ask for Chinese vaccines ahead of Beijing Games (CBC)

Rong Zhu makes UFC history (MMA Junkie)

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.