Football continues to offer great opportunities for everyone. Wealthy companies from huge emerging markets, such as China, India, United States & Canada and Brazil have more money to spend than ever and they are investing it in football; just like oil-rich sheiks from the Gulf have started a few years before.
Could the latest developments – keep in mind that a lot of traditional European football clubs already have foreign owners – change the football map in a way that would put Europe out of the spotlight? Many people believe that China (or even India!) will sooner or later have the strongest league in the world. Could tempting offers lure the best young players away from Europe and could we once see the Asian Champions League overshadow the European one? Let’s take a closer look at what is happening in some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
“The sleeping giant has awoken“, said the headlines, commenting on recent football activity in the country. Clubs, owned by rich domestic companies, splashed out millions of euros. Among others, they brought in Didier Drogba, Fredric Kanoute, Nicolas Anelka, Lucas Barrios, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Seydou Keita. Drogba – last year a Champions League and FA Cup winner with Chelsea – and Anelka came to Shanghai Shenhua for an annual salary of more than 12 million euros. Will the Chinese continue to spend as much? If they do and if they change the five foreign players per club quota, the Chinese Super League could soon become much more than just the promised land for ageing stars on the decline.
The high-flying project of a six-team Indian Premier League – rights were bought for 30 years – was a big flop and never really materialized, but even the idea and the names that were ready to play there show that India also has enormous potential. Robert Pires, Robbie Fowler, Jay-Jay Okocha, Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo, just to name a few, were more than willing to feature in a two month exhibition league that would bring them around half a million euros.
USA & Canada
Pele led the way and others followed – they still do. The Major League Soccer (MLS) league is still pretty much attractive to older world-class players, such as David Beckham (Forbes holds him as the highest earning football player in 2011, with 38 million euros of income), Thierry Henry, Rafa Marquez and, just recently, the Italian World Cup (2006) winner Alessandro Nesta, who recently joined the newly founded Montreal Impact, the 19th franchise of the league and the 3rd one in Canada. He will reportedly get around 800.000 euros per season.
United Arab Emirates (UAE) & Qatar
The 12-team UAE Pro League Commitee and Qatar Stars League have now been on the map for a while. Frank LeBoeuf once even said: “There are more stars in Qatar than in France!“ Juninho Pernambucano was the best player in the Qatar league while earning 2,5 million euros a season. Other famous acquisitions in the past include Fernando Hierro, Frank de Boer, Okocha, Gabriel Batistuta and Romario. Last season the best players in the leagues were African stars Bakari Kone (Ivory Coast, playing in Qatar) and Asamoah Gyan (Ghana, playing in UAE), who departed Europe for the Gulf at their peak, leaving famous clubs like Sunderland and Marseille. Gyan earns around 180.000 euros per week (after tax)!
Brazilians now think twice before leaving their home country. Their clubs are financially better off than ever: Santos’ star Neymar reportedly gets around 16 million euros with his salary and sponsorship deals! Speculation is mounting if more European players could follow 36 year-old Dutch midfielder of Surinam origin (with a Brazilian wife!) Clarence Seedorf, who just signed with Botafogo for around 250.000 euros per month.
New markets, new opportunities
All this is not just an opportunity for ageing (fading) stars, but also for all other footballers around the globe. New markets, where club presidents are willing to pay good money for quality, are what everybody in the business should feel excited about.
Would you try your luck in the Chinese second division if they offered you a good contract – better than in Europe – and give you the best possible conditions to become an even better player? Never say never!