In China’s Super League, Everyone Seems to Be Losing
At least Miranda, 37, has been able to continue his career: He quickly landed a spot — and a rich new contract — at São Paulo, a team that plays in Brazil’s top division. Such an outcome is unlikely for the dozens of Chinese nationals who have gone unpaid or been cast off by their clubs in recent months.
Understand China’s New Economy
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An economic reshaping. China is enacting new measures to change how business works and limit executives’ power. Driven by a desire for state control and self-reliance, these changes mark the end of a Gilded Age for private business that made the country into a manufacturing powerhouse and a nexus of innovation.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is recasting China’s business world in his own image. Above all else, that means control. Where executives once had a green light to grow at any cost, officials now want to dictate which industries boom, which ones go bust and how it happens.
Many measures have already been implemented. The Chinese government has tightened supervision of the country’s internet Goliaths, declared all financial transactions involving cryptocurrencies illegal and detained top executives from troubled companies. Meanwhile, China’s largest developer, Evergrande, is teetering with no word from officials about a bailout.
What China does next will be significant. If Chinese officials save Evergrande, they risk sending a message that some companies are still too big to fail. If they don’t, as many as 1.6 million home buyers waiting for unfinished apartments and hundreds of small businesses, creditors and banks may lose their money.
The long-term outlook is unclear. Some analysts say Mr. Xi’s measures and the push to curb excess borrowing have already made a big difference. But the world’s No. 2 economy is slowing, and the Chinese government may have to work harder to rekindle it.
“These are players that have very little access to the international market,” said Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of FIFPro, the global players’ union. “If their clubs go bankrupt, the chance to find work as a footballer is very slim. So it effectively puts them out of work.”
An Altered State
The prospects for the Chinese league are unclear. The market for top-shelf foreign players, and their willingness to go to China amid the stories of unpaid wages, has vanished. And the fates of the clubs and others who work in China’s soccer economy remain at the whim of capricious local soccer officials, who are known for frequently and abruptly changing the rules, and the financial health of the league’s primary investors, typically real estate businesses, which has led the league to be known colloquially as the real estate league instead of the Super League.
The days of eye-popping paydays are surely over. Carlos Tevez, a striker, once earned $40 million for a single unproductive season from Shanghai Shenhua, a team owned by the real estate company Greenland Group. Top Brazilian players like Hulk and Oscar received breathtaking paydays, but others cashed in as well: At one point, the salary of Darío Conca, a little-known Argentine striker, reportedly made him the third-highest-paid player in the world.
In recent years, the league has attempted to restrain rampant overspending by issuing new rules, including a tax on imports and limits on foreign players. It also introduced regulations this season that barred companies from tying their brands to those of the teams they owned, forcing businesses like Evergrande and Greenland to grudgingly rename their clubs.
“This is a very bad situation, and it will take some time to adjust,” Wu, the sports lawyer, said.