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7 January 2017

My ambition? Get to age 90 and see China dominate world football

I want to be here to see my older grandchildren, now aged 16, leave college, if they ever go, and get a job (they’ll be lucky). But mostly, I want to see China win.

By Hunter Davies

It’s my birthday tomorrow. Depends when you’re reading this, of course, but it’s on 7 January, always has been, since I was born. Though in fact I did change it, for 20 years, to 7 July, much to my mother’s annoyance. We were always in Portugal in July, so I thought it would be a better time to have a party, rather than boring, dreary, miserable old January. If the Queen can have two birthdays, why can’t the rest of us?

No presents, please. Just wish me luck in getting to 90. That’s my ambition, having got over the hurdle of being 80 – hold on, 81 – tomorrow. I want to be here to see my older grandchildren, now aged 16, leave college, if they ever go, and get a job (they’ll be lucky). But mostly I want to see what it’s like when China dominates world football. Which they will do, don’t you worry.

For the past five years the Chinese have been throwing half-decent money at football but not getting much for it, buying knackered former stars who hang on for about a year and crawl back home again.

But now they’ve splashed out and spent top money, breaking the world record for salaries. Shanghai Shenhua are paying Carlos Tevez £615,000 a week, and SIPG FC, also of Shanghai, will be paying Oscar £400,000, making them the highest-paid footballers on the planet. Oscar is only 25 and could easily have moved from Chelsea to another Prem club.

The Chinese have still not tempted many top managers, but that will come. The club that Tevez is going to is managed by Gus Poyet, ex-Brighton and Sunderland.

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Why are the Chinese doing it? Because they can. They have loads of money. They love the sport and plan to become a dominant force, exerting power and influence over the rest of football. And the world generally. Which is rather sweet and reassuring – that they consider football as a passport to world fame.

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Then what will happen? I foresee the Premier League being demoted in the pecking order. If the Chinese league has all the world’s best players and clubs and managers, then naturally all dopey, half-witted, unthinking, craven fans, such as my good self, will want to tune in to their top games rather than ours.

“Ours”, of course, are no longer ours. The Prem is totally dominated by foreign players. All the top clubs have foreign managers, plus there are more and more foreign owners. It doesn’t really matter to them where they play or run football, if the money’s good enough, the standard of play high and the league competitive.

What about Sky? What will it do? Its audience figures are now shaky, but thanks to Uncle Rupert it’s a world player with branches everywhere. The recently launched China Global Television Network will doubtless compete with it for football rights – and could win.

The English Premier League is purely local. It can’t very well run a league in China, and won’t be able to boast it’s the best league in the world, which is a nonsense anyway. The Spanish league has the best players and the world’s two best teams.

Sky, technically, has been a plus for football, as its coverage is excellent, but I can’t see what good the Premier League has done, apart from making more money for the elite clubs, leaving the rest of football to scrabble around. It’s mad that in England we have three bodies for the sport – the Prem, the FA and the Football League. One committee of suits would be quite sufficient.

And what about us, the fans? We would still be able to watch the top players on our tellies. Our local teams, which date back well over a hundred years, and which we all love and cherish, blah blah, will survive in some form.

I fully expect, when I’m 90, that the Prem will have turned into one of those leagues in Australia or the US or Canada or the Gulf, where clapped-out stars went to play before dying, such as Jermain Defoe. What am I saying? He came back.

I bet he’ll still be playing here in 2026, along with John Terry and Steven Gerrard, who will be even bigger stars in a smaller pool. “Come on, you crocks,” I’ll shout at them. And myself . . . 

This article appears in the 04 Jan 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Divided Britain