There is no shortage of miracles when it comes to soccer in China. Ask the players at Meizhou Meixian Techand Football Club, which won the second leg of a tournament in the Yi League of the Chinese Football Association, equivalent to the English Football League One.
As soon as they scored the only goal against Shenzhen Ledman FC in the 88th minute, a decent surprise party was waiting for them at the locker room.
Two suitcases full of cash totaling 20 million yuan (US$2.95 million) was meant for distribution to players who help the team be promoted to the higher China League One, taking it a step closer to the dream of becoming a Chinese Premium League team.
One can imagine how happy they were – presumably all will become millionaires, if they have not already become so, after a single match.
Well, if the winning prize for a game in the third league is US$3 million for a small county in the Guangdong region, it makes people wonder what sort of jackpot can be expected for a team in the Chinese Premier League, if not the World Cup.
Soccer is a crazy business in China. It is crazy because anything can happen along the way.
All told, China is rich, not as much as the United States, but it stands to take over the US in a few years. When a nation becomes rich, it wants trophies. And the Chinese, who have emerged as frequent gold-medal winners in the Olympics, wants the World Cup in soccer.
And this has become a hidden agenda of President Xi Jinping, who has amassed even more power after the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China ended last week. All told, Xi loves soccer, especially English Premier League. Two years ago, he visited Manchester City FC, which received a £400 million (US$526.6 million) investment from a consortium led by CMC Capital Partners promptly afterward.
The deal also inspired other Chinese tycoons to rush for stakes in top European soccer clubs, which included the two top teams AC Milan and International Milan in Italy and top Spanish team Atletico Madrid, which took first runner-up in the UEFA, Europe’s championship league.
But the hunt for football clubs was halted after Beijing discouraged businessmen from buying sports franchises for fear of too much capital flowing out of the country.
Domestically the Chinese Premier League is famous for writing big checks to lure players who are past their peak. Even Alibaba Group took a 50% control in China Evergrande soccer team, famous for hiring foreign guns to remain in the top league.
Despite all these money efforts, Chinese soccer remains a joke. The national team, constantly mocked by Chinese netizens, was unable to qualify for 2018 World Cup. Well, there is something money can’t buy.