Impatient Chinese chase football glory at all costs

Beijing (AFP) – European clubs Inter Milan, Aston Villa and Sochaux have had a high turnover of managers since Chinese takeovers, sparking fears that their trigger-happy new owners have little patience and no strategy.

“Many buyouts are irrational and defy the laws of the market,” Zhou Jiming, a football analyst and director at the official China Sports Journal, told AFP. 

“The majority of investors lack patience,” he said.

That certainly appears to be the case with Aston Villa, currently under their third manager, after a takeover by Chinese businessman Tony Xia last June.

Xia spent 38 million euros ($40 million) to hire Roberto Di Matteo as manager, hoping the 2012 Champions League winner would be able to lift Villa’s flagging fortunes.

But Di Matteo was sacked just 11 games later and replaced by Steve Bruce.

Meanwhile Inter Milan, who are owned by Chinese electronics retailer Suning, in November named Stefano Pioli as their third manager in just four months, in a desperate bid to restore their reputation.

Their struggles prompted Chievo president Luca Campedelli to question Suning’s commitment to football, mocking the Chinese accent and saying it was “not enough just to pay wages”.

Even as China’s willingness to splash out on foreign talent has drawn top managers such as Manuel Pellegrini (Hebei Fortune), Andre Villas-Boas (Shanghai SIPG) and Sven Goran Eriksson (Shenzhen FC) to the country, many have not made it past a few months.

Eriksson was ousted from Shanghai SIPG despite leading them to a third-place finish in the 2016 Chinese Super League, Fabio Cannavaro was dismissed from Guangzhou Evergrande just six months into the job while Jean Tigana fared even worse at Shanghai Shenhua, sacked after only five games in charge in 2012.

– Leicester lesson –

Chinese investors in football would do well to look at Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the Thai president of Leicester City, reigning English Premier League champion, for pointers, said analyst Zhou. 

“He has done a lot of substantive, solid basic work, and the success has been there. Chinese investors lack this kind of involvement,” he said.

The shopping magnate bought the club in 2010, overseeing the greatest rags to riches story in football when his 5,000-1 shots won the Premier League last year.

According to Peter Kenyon, former chief executive of Manchester United and Chelsea, “The smart people understand it’s not about acquisition, it’s… what you do with it (afterwards).

“I think we are going to see good purchasers and bad purchasers but the ones that I’ve been involved with are long-term, they’ve got a strategy,” said Kenyon, who now advises on football business deals.

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