In a resounding match, Guangzhou EverGrande defeated Kashiwa Reysol 4:1 at the Japanese club’s home pitch in the first round of the semi-final of Asian Champions League, a place for Guangzhou in the final is almost a certainty.
This would be regarded as a great breakthrough for Chinese football, some media even described it as the twilight of the dark age. A series of records will be broken if Guangzhou could make it to the final and win it, but there is still a lot of suspicion and distrust in the air – as always the case with Chinese football.
A combination of Chinese and international players, with three top Southern American players, formed the current team – and the head coach is the World Cup winning Italian Macelo Lippi. The reason players like the Argentine Darío Leonardo Conca, a former MVP in the Brazilian top division, and Brazilians Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso and Luiz Guilherme da Conceição Silva, make it all the way to China, is simple and straightforward: money.
And for this grandeur qualification, the owner of the club has already agreed to pay more than £12 million (RMB116 million) of prize bonus for the team. In the domestic league, Guangzhou Evergrande is leading by a distance, and have only lost once this season. The owner has already paid out £6 million (RMB 5,700 million) of ‘Win Bonus’. All these are additional payment to the players, who are already on European standard salaries.
For creative midfielder Conca, who almost left Guangzhou last season, he is on annual salary of $8 million, and that’s net income. A Chinese international player in the team could easily get earn net income of about $1 million a season.
Club owner, Xu Jiayin, is the richest real estate developer in China, and has a policy of adjusting his club prize bonus policy year from year. For this season, his target is for his club to win the Asian Champions League, therefore, for each winning match in the group stage, the whole team will get a win bonus of more than £600,000 pound (RMB 6 million), for a draw the team will get £300,000. There is even a special ‘National Glory’ prize: the winning goal difference also counts! One more goal scored would guarantee the team an extra £200,000 of prize money. And qualification for each level, from the group stage to the final, guarantees a further £600,000.
The most formidable team in Asia, driven by this crazy but effective prize money system, Guangzhou have swept through the ACL. The team dominated the group stages by winning five matches and drawing one, easily eliminated opponents in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and are now at the throne of a grand final.
With the team retaining the China Super League for the third consecutive season, and a great chance of making it all the way to the top of Asia. Mr. Xu will have to pay the team more than £20 million of bonus, which is something he would love to do. He is basically making this club team into a kind of national figure of football – Team China could lose horrendously to the Thailand youth team, but his club team could be the dominant force in Asia. Even though the biggest differences between his team and other Asian powers are those top foreign players. In the 4-1 defeat of Kashiwa Reysol, all four goals were scored and created by one Argentine and two Brazilians.
Chinese football supporters are happy for Guangzhou Evergrande, but are also puzzled by this money driven, international reliant instant success model.
This is the age of the reality show.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com