Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger says it will take years for China to build a football culture that can really compete with leagues in Europe, but he is still worried players will see mega Chinese offers as a new benchmark for top clubs to match.
Chinese Super League (CSL) clubs have increased their efforts to attract top players by offering record-high salaries that few, if any, European clubs would be willing to match, with Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez among those to have been targeted so far.
China’s increased influence on the English game has been highlighted even further by a row at Chelsea involving star striker Diego Costa, who was linked with a lucrative move after being dropped by manager Antonio Conte for last weekend’s match at Leicester.
But while the CSL may have the money to compete for top talents, Wenger said it is still a long way from building a true rival to the European leagues.
“You do not create a top league [just] like that,” Wenger told a news conference. “Professional football in England has been created 150 years ago. And we still struggle. I believe it’s a slow process of creating a football culture.
“Football is quite strange because you are educated as a little boy by your parents, you hear about football and you give that to the next generations. And that takes time to be really a part of the population. In China it’s new.”
Wenger may know better than most, having moved to Japan in 1995 to coach in the newly formed professional J League, which had been created just two years earlier.
“It was the third year of professional football in Japan. And you expect reflexes from people that are not there,” he said. “So it will take time.
“We do not know if in 10 years China will still do it. Sometimes it’s a political decision that can change. I personally am very happy [about China’s growth], and I expect India to come to the game. And I hope it will happen.”
But for clubs like Arsenal, it can quickly become a problem when players can use lucrative offers from China as a negotiating tool when discussing new contracts.
Arsenal have yet to tie down Sanchez or Mesut Ozil to new long-term deals, with both reportedly holding out for more than £200,000-a-week. Sanchez has reportedly been offered about twice that to move to China.
Carlos Tevez arrived in Shanghai on Thursday to start a two-year stint with Shanghai Shenhua after signing a deal that was initially reported to be worth more than £600,000-a-week.
“That’s the danger, that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe,” Wenger said. “You cannot compete with that but I still think that, when you’re a footballer, the first thing is that you want to play against the best players in the best teams.
“That has to be the first target. After that when you are a professional football player you want to combine the fact you can play in the best league, against the best players, for the maximum amount of money. So I think that combination is the best in England at the moment, so I don’t see why the players should leave the English Premier League.”