Everything seems to be made in China these days. Take a look at the manufacturer’s label on your new piece of clothing, what do you see? Every item, even the highly sought after human hair by females, is shipped from China. Americans are crying that all their jobs are now in China. Although this claim may be exaggerated, you will agree with me that China does call the shot a great deal as regards where most of our goods are made.
Nevertheless, I am more concerned about our darling round leather game — the game of association football — especially as it has to do with fandom and viewership. I have watched with amazement over the years, how even in the streets of Lagos, many fans of the game have pitched tents with various top English Premier League clubs, and gathered to watch their adopted teams with emotions running high. Seeing Nigerians refer to Premier League clubs like Chelsea as “we”, “us”, “our”, testifies to the fact that top European teams have a huge influence not only on our football culture, but in fact, our livelihood. Here, it is religion. And then comes China, the killjoy, threatening to steal our viewership. Hold that thought for a minute. Before I invoke your spirit of imagination on what our world could be like with a super duper Chinese Super League dominated with “sinners”, let me share statistics and figures on how money offers from Chinese clubs could literally make a football star lose sleep for several days. We will perform a stocktaking of Nigerian players who did not fall to the “temptation” ( I will call them “the Saints” and that’s if they exist); those who had no choice but to grab the cash with both of their hands (“the Fallen”); and those that are about to fall — “the fallible” (does the “devil” ever give up? ).
The first mention of China in the transfer market involving Nigerians was that of the acquisition of both Samuel Olanare Aaron, and, Yakubu ‘The Yak’ Aiyegbeni, by Guangzhou. Although both players have long moved out of the the Super League, Nigeria currently boasts of former Sounders FC legendary striker, Obafemi Martins in the Chinese top tier.
Obafemi chose to move to Shanghai Shenhua in February 2015 on a 9-month deal that would fetch him $6.6 million (about N2.1 billion), after posting great performances for MLS’ Sounders FC for three seasons. What would you have done if you were in his shoes? Obafemi was clearly no longer in the scheme of things in the Super Eagles. He had proved himself in the MLS season after season. Despite the odd challenge the Chinese Super League might present, one thing was certain. He knew he would make billions in just a matter of months. And in the blinking of an eye, he was in China. And if you don’t already know he will remain in China for the rest of 2017, read this tweet:
— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) October 29, 2016
Enough said about Martins. As Americans would say, China’s “got him on lock down”.
I present to you another sinner — The rave deal of the moment involving captain of the Super Eagles, John Mikel Obi. After 10 years of faithful service to almighty Chelsea FC, don’t you think he deserves a standing ovation? Well if you are not impressed about his performances over a decade in the EPL, maybe you would be impressed about the ‘blood money’ he couldn’t reject. Let me add that he turned down offers to move to France and Spain. China was his ‘last resort’, after he gave Valencia a chance to up their offer to match Tianjin Teda’s. Although it was reported that he said he moved to the orient because he had Nigeria’s Russia World Cup qualification in mind, I personally think it is clear that the pay mattered MOST to him. Disbelieve me if you want, but a N54 million per week package makes me think so. If you think that pay out is outrageous, check out his foreign counterpart in Tevez (currently highest paid in the world beating Paul Pogba at 615k pounds per week). I’m going to keep these discussion within Nigerian players alone for obvious reasons. Need I mention the about N38 billion a year an unnamed Chinese club tabled for 2016 World Player of the year, Cristiano Ronaldo? So far, we have just two sinners from Nigeria. Because the Chinese “devils” have not given up on “the saints”, so that they become “the fallible”. Nigeria’s out-of-form striker, Odion Ighalo perfectly fits the latter category.
Watford FC’s Odion Jude Ighalo, last year, had to literally pray, after an initial offer from Hebei China Fortune, of about N77 million a week (more than Mikel’s current China pay). Ighalo said he could not sleep for three days when the offer was made to him. In his words,
‘I prayed about it, and God said it was not for me, no matter how much money it was. I knew God would direct me. When I said I don’t want to go, they offered me more money, almost £300,000 a week. I told them it’s not about the money.’
Hey, that’s about N115 million per week!!! (using Google’s currency conversion at this moment of writing). Did I hear you say wow? At the time of the initial offer, Ighalo was one of the most feared strikers in the Premier League, with 14 goals already after the first half of the season. Ironically, after he listened to God refusing to take the Chinese offer, the goals suddenly stopped coming — even till this moment he has only notched a couple more goals after over 20 Premier League starts. Let’s call this long period, his moment of trials (talking spiritual trials not club trials). Now the devil has come back again to taunt and tempt. This time around, Odion can’t wait to consider the move. What does the offer read? To partner Tevez at Shinhua? Hebei China Fortune and Shanghai SIPG are both keeping a close eye on the striker despite his goals drought, and it is believed the latter made a huge bid of £37.5million this month. Although the offer is not official yet, he definitely will not pray this time before making a decision to go.
Count equals zero — for every player at our home front has either fallen or is about to.
While it seems for now, the likes of Messi and Ronaldo will not go the way of China no matter what the deal says, consider Chelsea manager, Antonio Conte’s words:
“The Chinese market is a danger for all teams in the world, not only for Chelsea but for all teams in the world…”
My mind tells me the same thing, that the time will come that every football star will fall for the money. Then, we will be forced to watch the Chinese Super League. It will be so doubly commercialized that we will forget that there was ever any such thing like the EPL. Our lives will be infected BIGLY (ask U.S. President-elect, Donal Trump who coined that word). Our religion, indoctrinated. Maybe we will have to refer to Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shinhua, Tianjin Teda etc., as “ours”. And I’m sure we will learn far more than a word or two in Chinese. Not just the ball, but the game of Football will be made in China. How wonderful the world would be when God looks down the earth to see every player fallen!
Not for me. I think we will need a great flood on our football pitches — forget the rainbow. I will be Noah to build an ark, and you can come join me to watch them juggle in the rain.