Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic FC, one of the oldest professional football clubs in China, has become the latest Chinese Super League team to collapse due to huge financial losses.
The club announced it recently via a May 24 claim. The club reportedly owes 750 million yuan ($ 110 million) and has been unable to pay the salaries of some players for more than a year.
The death of another major Chinese team, which after collapsing Jiangsu FC a few weeks after winning the title in 2020, underscores the dire financial situation facing CSL, which just a few years ago had ambitions to become the world’s best football league outside Europe.
CSL clubs – many of which don’t have an established fan base but get money from wealthy corporate owners – paid astronomical amounts to lure elite players and coaches in the late 2010s, with Oscar, Hulk, Carlos Tevez, and Marek Hamsik among the stars who will move to China during the boom.
But the COVID-19 pandemic and the Chinese real estate crisis put CSL into a debt crisis, as many of the club’s supporters experienced financial pressure. About three-quarters of CSL clubs are owned by companies related to the real estate sector.
Chongqing Liangjiang’s reversal in fortunes is particularly dramatic. In 2016, the club – then renamed Chongqing Lifan and rated the ninth most expensive football team in China – was bought by Wuhan Dangdai, a large Chinese conglomerate with businesses spanning the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and education sectors, among others. -apart.
The company continued to pump more than 3 billion yuan into the club in subsequent years. In 2018, Chongqing is reportedly close to legendary Spanish midfielder Andres Iniesta. Former Manchester United player Jordi Cruyff became the team’s coach during the 2018-2019 season.
However, the club’s balloon debt became unsustainable during the pandemic, and Dangdai itself was considered to be in financial trouble. Some Chongqing players reportedly have not been paid for more than a year, and none of the players have earned a 2022 salary.
In May, players refused to train for a week in protest of salary arrears. He also sent a letter to the club’s management asking for a solution, domestic media reported.
“Within a year of not being paid a salary, generally club employees struggled to maintain a normal life,” the letter said. “After work, many send takeout or work as Didi drivers, rely on credit cards, or spend their savings to meet their needs.”
The players said they were willing to deduct the salary to be paid before May 2021 and would receive a gradual payment of the remaining amount to achieve a solution.
However, after takeover negotiations with Chongqing municipal authorities to eliminate the club’s unpaid debts, Chongqing Liangjiang was forced to announce the dissolution.
The news was greeted with dark humor by the Chinese sports media. Chen Xuyuan, president of the China Football Association, said last year that Chinese football should be “gong yi zu qiu”-football that provides services to the community. Commentators assume that the target has been reached, as Super League players now play for free.
It is expected that Dalian Pro will replace Chongqing for the upcoming CSL season, which will start on June 3rd. However, uncertainty remains over the future of other league teams.
For the third season in a row, CSL games will be played in the same “closed loop” system used during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The games will be held in only three cities: Dalian in northern China; and Haikou and Meizhou to the south.
Feng Zhen, a veteran Chinese football journalist, told Sixth Tone that the finances of many CSL clubs remain in dire straits, as the club has failed to build a solid commercial base. Even giants such as Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan are unsafe, he said.
“He has a strong fan base and extensive media resources,” Feng said. “It doesn’t seem like anything can happen, but it’s just like that.”
Editor: Dominic Morgan.
(Header image: Fans spread flowers at the entrance of Chongqing Liangjiang Athletic FC training center, Chongqing, May 24, 2022. IC)