Football Business : Chinese football clubs in financial trouble, 11 disqualified, 5 shut shop


Financial woes are taking a toll on China’s professional football clubs, with 11 being disqualified for failing to pay wages and five closing shop on their own terms, including last season’s Chinese Super League side Tianjin Tianhai and now Asian giants Liaoning Hongyuan.

Fallen Asian heavyweight Liaoning Hongyun bid farewell to their fans and apologised after they were among 11 clubs disqualified from Chinese football because of financial problems.

Chinese Super League (CSL) club Tianjin Tianhai folded earlier this month and now Liaoning, a traditional powerhouse in China, have similarly dissolved.

Liaoning, based in the northeastern city of Shenyang, were Asian champions in 1990 and dominated Chinese football from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

But in an arc that typifies the boom-and-bust nature of Chinese football, not helped by the coronavirus shutdown, Liaoning have fallen on hard times lately and finished one place off the foot of China’s second division last season.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) threw them out of the professional leagues on Saturday, along with 10 other cash-strapped clubs who owed players wages, and in a subsequent statement the club said it would fold.

“The spirit of Liaoning football stands for self-improvement and never gives up,” Liaoning, founded in 1953, said on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform.

“The club has left, but the spirit of Liaoning football lives on.

“We sincerely thank all the fans from all walks of life who have supported and loved Liaoning Football Club for many years — the media, government leaders, sponsors and so on.

“We express deep regret and we apologise.”

Liaoning were ranked the 10th most valuable team in China by Forbes in 2015-2016, worth $67 million.

In 2016 they splashed out 11.5 million euros on Nigerian striker Anthony Ujah from Werder Bremen. But the club fell out of the top-tier CSL in 2017. The players received none of their salaries last year, former chairman Huang Yan admits, and have launched legal action to recoup their earnings.

Shenzhen FC, coached by AC Milan legend Roberto Donadoni, will replace Tianjin in the CSL this season.

Low attendance and gaudy contracts for overseas signings were already weighing heavily on the industry, even before the coronavirus outbreak forced it into total shutdown.

The official Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese Football Association head Chen Xuyuan as saying “clubs can barely achieve sustainable development. The owners have invested a lot but earn little back.”

In an announcement Saturday, the CFA said it hoped clubs could “pay attention to long-term planning and rational management” and protect the interests of players, coaches and staff.

The Chinese Super League will continue to comprise 16 teams, with formerly relegated Shenzhen FC promoted to take Tiajin’s place. It still remains unclear when the postponed 2020 season will restart. The campaign was supposed to kick off on February 22 but has been indefinitely postponed because of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile CFA draws up guidelines for possible start in June-July
The Chinese Football Association (CFA) has drawn up guidelines to counter the Covid-19 threat as it eyes a late June or early July restart for the 2020 season of the Chinese Super League. The CFA’s procedures are designed to protect players, coaches and potentially fans, and will require government approval before the season can kick off.
CSL matches will be played behind closed doors. There will be no close contact during goal celebrations – this will be replaced by applause. Substitutes will be spaced out, at least one metre apart, and must wear masks. There will be no child mascots, team handshakes or group photos.