SINGAPORE, March 17 – The head of Spain’s La Liga said the cashed-up Chinese Super League wasn’t far from becoming one of the world’s top football competitions but he hopes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t headed there just yet.
Speaking in Singapore, La Liga president Javier Tebas also told AFP that he welcomed China’s burgeoning interest in football, which includes investments in Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Espanyol.
Atletico’s Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, signed for 42 million euros ($47 million) by Guangzhou Evergrande, was one of the big signings in China’s lavish spree during the recent transfer window.
But Tebas said he hoped Barcelona and Real Madrid superstars Messi and Ronaldo weren’t about to join China’s growing band of expensive foreign imports.
“You’ll have to ask them that but I certainly hope not,” he said during a visit to Singapore, adding: “There are enough football stars to go around.”
“Even though some improvement is needed at the moment, it’s slowly raising its standard,” Tebas, speaking through a translator, said of the Chinese Super League.
“And in a few years, if the standard is better, it can become among the top in the world. All of us will reap the benefits because it means we can all work together to increase standards.”
A pre-retirement stint would be more likely for Messi and Ronaldo if they were tempted by China, although reports have also linked some of football’s biggest names to CSL clubs.
– Model owners –
Inspired by a push headed by President Xi Jinping to turn China into a footballing power, Chinese teams have invested heavily in foreign players, often for outlandish sums.
Chinese clubs smashed the Asian transfer record four times as they splashed 331 million euros ($366.8 million) in the January-February transfer window, outstripping the English Premier League.
Chinese businesses have also invested in European football, with one state-backed company taking a $400 million stake in England’s Manchester City.
A Chinese company also sponsors Portugal’s second division, and sparked concern over plans to impose a quota of players from China.
But Tebas said China’s investments in La Liga were a “good opportunity” for Spanish clubs as they raised teams’ profile in the massive Chinese market.
Wanda Group, owned by Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, has a 20 percent stake in Atletico, and a Chinese model car-maker is the majority owner of Espanyol.
“Because they have an interest in the league, we feel it’s a good opportunity because this helps their investment,” Tebas said.
“It also allows the teams to have an increased profile in China,” he added.
Tebas also said La Liga’s ability to retain key players would depend on its spending power, although he was confident Spanish clubs would remain competitive in the transfer market.
“This is an issue of finance, whether the La Liga is still growing,” he said. “If we continue on that path, and have enough future resources, we will be able to keep our players.”