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

John Yan: The trouble with instant wealth

Zhang Xizhe has returned to Beijing Guoan Football Club the club that sold him to the Bundesliga club Wolfsburg 166 days ago. He didn’t play a minute for the hugely improved German club, under the price tag of €2 million. Dispritied and tired, he told me that he would never play abroad again.

Zhang Xizhe was the midfield maestro of Beijing, a key figure of the national team as well, at the golden age of footballers, 25. The reason Wolfsburg’ bought him, was Volkswagen, the German car manufacturer, which has extensive business interest in China. If Zhang could solidify himself in the Bundesliga, he could be the perfect salesman for Volswagen, which is the major shareholder of Wolfsburg. During his stay there, Zhang even came back to Shanghai, and participated in the Shanghai Autofest as a representative of Volkswagen, but the trip didn’t help Zhang’s European football adventure.

It was a wrong transfer – it happened at the wrong time for the wrong player. Nevertheless, Zhang’s decision that he would never play abroad again, is also wrong. Zhang is a very talented midfielder, with a silky left foot, but Wolfsburg, which was on a mazy run last season, could not give this Chinese newcomer, in the middle of the season, too many opportunities. And Zhang, as seems to be the case for quite a lot of failed Chinese footballers in Europe, was never committed, patient or stubborn enough, to stick through the adaptation process on his adventure.

A major hindrance, is that Europe has ceased to be appealing to Chinese international players. For a month’s time in the summer, the CSL season would have a similar summer window as the European one for transfers, and the arrivals of Robinho, Paulinho, Gyan, Demba Ba and Gudjohnsen, proved the level of crazy investment of club owners in this league. Chinese international players, no matter their playing ability, are also enjoying this invasion of foreign legions, because their income is also rising simultaneously.

Gyon’s salary at Shanghai SIPG has become international news, reported to be on £227,000 weekly, ranking him as the eighth or nineth highest paid footballer globally. Gyan’s salary, translated into Chinese currency, would be around 100 million RMB. For Chinese internationals, take Zheng Zhi, the capitain of the national team, who played for Charlton and Celtic, was reported to be around 8 million RMB at Guangzhou Evergrande. He would get another 3 or 4 million as his win bonus, even though, his income is dwarfed by Gyan and other foreign players.

Zhang Xizhe signed a new contract with Beijing Guoan, in a extreme low key way: on a canteen table at the club’s training base. His income will be as high as Zheng Zhi’s. But surely at around 5 or 6 million RMB per season, or even higher (which is about $1 million) his salary at Wolfsburg could not have been in this range.

Chinese footballers, as Japan, need to hone their skills at the highest competitive stage in Europe, however, the frenzy of investment, has been dragging on the legs of Chinese footballers. A balance needs to be found.

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com.

不能不留洋

他说他再也不想留洋了,回归的时候,张稀哲语气里充满着失落和疲惫。

这一段的经历,从憧憬期待,到咫尺天涯的遥不可及,到梦想破碎之后接受现实,绝不是166天时间概念上的距离。回到北京国安,张稀哲和母俱乐部重新签订工作合同,据说就是在俱乐部食堂完成的,简单低调至极。俱乐部领导会用”孩子回来了”这种语气,听似温暖地轻松带过,然而失落蔓延着各个层面上,不仅是张稀哲。

这是发生在错误时间和错误对象的一次错误转会,但是就此”再也不想留洋”,传递的却更是一种错误信息。张稀哲的德甲之旅失败了,他之前马明宇的意甲之旅、李金羽的法甲之旅、李玮峰的英超之旅,都没能获得成功,而国内联赛,至少在投资规模和喧嚣程度,正在以疯狂速度不断向上攀升。留洋至少在经济收入意义上,对中国球员,没有了太大的吸引力。可因为留洋为畏途,而”再也不想留洋”,却会是中国足球继续封闭、中国球员无法真正到更高水平环境中磨砺自己的竞技水准。欧洲足球对于中国足球,在球员最高一级打磨淬火的作用,如果因为这样的个体失意,而作用消失的话,那会是中国足球另一种角度上的失败。

留洋拯救不了中国足球,但是不留洋,中国球员不可能真正参与国际竞争。

张稀哲转会的失败,发生在一个错误时间:冬季转会从来都不是最佳转会时机,因为欧洲联赛的跨年度赛制,俱乐部阵容和球队各项安排,往往都是在夏窗确定,冬窗的引援,不是查漏补缺,就是为未来做储备,留给新援一些适应时间。张稀哲头半年没踢上球,并不奇怪,温格对于加盟英超的球员,设定的适应时间就是半年,当初皮雷斯这样的法国国脚,由法甲到英超,尚有半年适应期。中国球员如果不能在夏窗加盟,有一个相对完整的赛季前训练营,要想中途融入团队,难度空前之大。本来语言沟通、生活方式等诸多方面,根本还是初来乍到的适应,就像在竞技场上顶替掉已有的布置,谈何容易。

这也是对象错误的一次转会,沃尔夫斯堡正处在强劲上升期,以德布劳内为核心的中场运转极其有效,充满着观赏性。张稀哲有自己的技术特点和组织能力,可水准不足以和这些欧洲球员比肩。加盟沃尔夫斯堡,更是因为背后大众集团的商业推手。可是从整体绩效来看,哪怕张稀哲能跑到上海去为大众汽车站台,转会整体的失败,对参与的任何一方都没有好处。所以这是一次全败的转会个案。

后来者由此警惕,而不再向前?张稀哲正处在竞技黄金年龄,他的灰心可以理解,但他的灰心不能成为后来者的阻挠。不去和最强者直接面对,你永远不知道自己的能力究竟如何,不知道和对方的差距何在。中国传统思维里,遇到挫折就龟缩,以退而结网的言辞自慰,然而这个世界的现实是,你越退缩、越放弃对话和沟通,和领先一方的差距,就会越大。

可怕的是,国内联赛薪资与转会费水平,再春药效应的资本市场鼓噪下,甚嚣尘上。吉安加盟上海上港,薪资能排进全球球员前十,国内球员的价格也水涨船高,孙可的6600万转会费,虽然是一个天津式笑话,但刷新这个纪录,估计不需要多长时间。球员在为自己规划和考虑时,是十分现实的,有限的职业时间内,当然要争取最大的利益,作为生活保障。留洋在孙继海时代,还能有不低于国内的薪资,如今张稀哲孙可们,在中超得到的薪水,以及各种灰色收入,必定会比他们效力欧洲要高。

打不上球,又赚不到钱,为什么还要留洋?球员的考虑合乎他们自身状况。

可中超磨砺出来的国脚,能和在欧洲联赛里竞争的国脚相比吗?孙继海李玮峰年近四旬,仍然能在中场登场,仔细去看看他们平素的训练和生活安排,留洋时代养成的各种良好习惯,是他们竞争力的保证。这还都是成年之后,才留洋的中国球员。于海、于大宝们,都在欧洲培训过,早早归国,真因为他们在欧洲找不到踢球机会?现实因素更重要。

这些难题球员不可能解决,俱乐部都在投资人疯狂追求成绩的压迫下,只可能短视。要保持留洋成为坦途甚至育才捷径,行业管理者必须扮演更积极的角色。