51 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

John Yan: 马云的足球挑战 Alibaba and investing in football’s future

Ma Yun and his company Alibaba, have arrived on the world stage. The company’s blockbuster IPO in New York on September 19 turned the company the second biggest internet company in the world. The evaluation of the company surpassed $220 billion after the first day on the market, for the following several days, even though there was a reasonable fall in its price, it still worth more than $210 billion.

Ma Yun, a former English teacher from Hang Zhou, the most famous self-made billionaire in China, has undoubtedly become the wealthiest man in China, and his recent involvement in football becomes more interesting and intriguing.

Three months before his E-business website Alibaba went on its IPO trail, Ma Yun surprised a lot of people to became the joint owner of Guangzhou Evergrande FC, getting 50% ownership of the club from Xu Jiayin, the real estate mogul – the former wealthiest man in China of 2011.

There had been a lot of rumors that Ma would buy up his hometown China Super League club, Hangzhou LvCheng FC, and the owner of Hangzhou FC, Song Weiping, was a close friend of Ma. However, Ma backed out from the Hangzhou FC deal, and after a reported 10 minutes mobile phone chat with Xu, he paied 1.2 billion RMB (close to $600 million) for half of Guangzhou Evergrande FC.

Ma is famous for his self-promotion and manipulation of media, he is a master of these tricks even since he started his franchise in 1999. Before his investment into Guangzhou FC, as football increasingly become a super rich man’s toy, there had been a lot of reports saying that Ma could enter the football business. He denied fiercely the link with Hangzhou FC, which didn’t have a strong presence in CSL, even by writing a note on his company’s internal social messaging board, explaining that the only experience he had with football, was when he in university, being pushed by classmates, he played half a match and score an own goal. In that note, Ma used his typical language to laugh at the low level of football in China, taunting the incapability of football administrators.

But his link with football is not a joke, and less than a month after his half-public note, he became a weird joint owner with Guangzhou Evergrande.

The purchase created great publicity for Ma and Xu – the local TV channel in Guangzhou even did a live broadcast of two billionaires contract signing news conference. When Guangzhou FC was playing at home against West Sydney Rangers in the AFC Champions League quarter final, Ma first appeared in a football stadium, and that was likely his first experience of a live match.

He would never let a publicity enhancing opportunity pass by, before the match, even his knowledge about football could be doubtful, he announced a ‘Men’s Prize’ of 20 million RMB (more than $3 million) to encourage his team to perform. Guangzhou won the match 2:1, but were knocked out by the away goal rule. When the final whistle blew, Xu was apparently disappointed, however, Ma seemed to be really enjoying the experience. Some comments media commented that he didn’t really understand the away goal rule and had thought his team had gone through to the next stage.

CSL and Guangzhou FC could gain him a lot of publicity, but that would not be enough, and as President Xi Jinping has consistently expressing his high hopes for football in China, the most successful businessmen in China would never ignore the orders from high above. According to latest news from Alibaba, Ma has started to set up a department in his company to focus on football youth development in China. The department will cover issues as football in schools, different age groups training, youth football competitions and etc.

Whether he really knows about or likes football, Ma’s involvement in football could be a short term positive for football in China, as the National Sport Administration has failed fundamentally in all aspects of football development. Football is more than business, entertainment or education, and simply by pumping cash into this social cause, would not be the ultimate solution. As shrewd as Ma is, he knows that simply by fawning upon the leader’s wishes would not guarantee the safety of his prosperity, he needs to build a wider platform to last.

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1542224246iamg@15422242468002g1542224246naiqn1542224246ay1542224246, or on weibo at:http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5

马云的足球挑战

在IPO面对国际媒体时,马云也会谈及足球,巨富谈足球,这已经是政治正确的常规动作了,而做这种常规动作,马云显然最为在行。

阿里巴巴的上市,在国际媒体间引起的反响,不仅是其体量巨大,以及这桩IPO所展示的中国崛起态势,不少国际资本观察者,都以阿里巴巴的体量,来说明在电子商务、互联网企业的领域里,中国是如何进行自我保护的,似乎只有在这种环境下,阿里巴巴才能所向无敌。马云的言论,没有落入到怀疑者设计的陷阱,那也是他不适合设计的领域。

所以他还在说自己的生意,自己的视野。足球在阿里巴巴的版图中,是和传统和主体业务无关的组成部分,这在马云的解释中,成为了”眺望未来”的部分。他的意思是,哪怕现在这些收购,包括足球,和阿里巴巴看起来没有直接关系,但是足球具备着巨大的未来发展潜力,有未来,便有了马云愿意玩下去的兴趣。

可他到底会怎么玩?他会玩多久?这恐怕是马云都无法回答的问题。

以12亿人民币获取广州恒大50%的股份,一直需要新闻舆论支持的马云,得到了又一波自我推广的机会,即便50%对50%,这是最糟糕的股权结构。将广州恒大变成”广州恒大淘宝”之后,马云第一次来到现场观看足球比赛,恒大在亚冠中出局。他赛前设立的”男人奖”,当然颁发了出去,只是这种奖金的刺激,哪怕上升到了两千万人民币的级别,也没有什么新意。这是王健林十多年前就玩过的游戏,哪怕朱骏,当初刚介入足球,每场比赛拎着现金去刺激球员,和”男人奖”的性质如出一辙。

马云要玩足球,不可能继续沿着王健林、许家印的路子走下去。这只是人云亦云的路数。即便”广州恒大淘宝”还能再创辉煌,再度登顶亚冠,甚至拿下一个世俱杯冠军,这仍然是别人玩过的游戏。他必须做出差异性,这是”马云”这两个字立下的规则。

从阿里巴巴内部传出来的消息,是阿里巴巴的团队和恒大的团队,关于足球已经有过多次讨论,俱乐部经营管理,依旧是交由恒大负责,名义上是里皮主管。阿里巴巴自身想要在足球上取得的突破,只可能往青训这个方向发展,内部架构有所设计,只是具体执行方向和推动方式,都还在云山雾罩中。

中国足球要取得突破,青训的提升恐怕是一个终极话题,因为体制内的国家体育总局,连国家队都管理不好,插手职业联赛,已经惹得怨声载道,要想在全国范围内推广普及足球,并且在青少年培训上为未来打基础,体育总局以及其下的中国足协根本无能为力。马云玩足球,去挑战这样一个最高难度的项目,倒也符合他的身份,以及阿里巴巴如日中天的名声。

国务院对于体育产业放宽发展环境的政策指向,是一种环境优化的迹象。不过马云和阿里巴巴要做的,是现有体制都不能完成的使命。王健林全面支持中国足球,无非是选材送去欧洲培训,恒大涉足青训,天价做出来一个足校,目前还看不到人材培养的效率和周期。涉足青训,没有十年,不可能见得功效,马云是否具备这样的耐心?