26 October 2016
Xi Jinping (inset) visited the Manchester City Football Club academy, rather than that of his favorite team Manchester United, during a UK trip in October. Photos: AFP
Xi Jinping (inset) visited the Manchester City Football Club academy, rather than that of his favorite team Manchester United, during a UK trip in October. Photos: AFP

Why the Chinese have mixed feelings about the ManC deal

News of a Chinese consortium buying into the owner of the Manchester City Football Club has been received with somewhat mixed reactions in the mainland.

While there is excitement that Chinese entities have made another breakthrough overseas, a trawl though online forums also reveals that many sports fans would have liked it better if the target had been the more popular Manchester United.

City Football Club, which owns the Manchester City FC and other football-related assets, disclosed Tuesday that it has inked a deal with a group led by China Media Capital and Citic Capital, which are effectively proxies for the Chinese government.

Under the agreement, the Chinese consortium will invest US$400 million for a 13 percent stake in the Abu Dhabi-controlled football group.

Apart from the Manchester City club, City Football Club owns the New York City FC and Melbourne City FC, as well as a minority stake in Yokohama F. Marinos.

The agreement came six weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping paid a visit to the training ground of Manchester City FC, which in 2002 recruited Chinese national footballer Sun Jihai into the English Premier League.

Mainland media had earlier this year speculated about a UK football deal, except that they got the name of the target wrong.

The predictions had been that the Chinese would buy into Manchester United, a team popularly known as the Red Devils.

A Red Devil deal would have been perfect for Red China. Moreover, Xi is also known to be a big fan of Manchester United.

Xi, along with most Hong Kong football fans, is among the 659 million people that Manchester United counts as its supporters, including 325 million in Asia.

The football club, which has won the most Premier League titles, has been a cradle for several football legends including George Best, David Beckham and Wayne Rooney.

It is also the third most valuable franchise, according to Forbes, with a franchise value of US$3.1 billion.

While fans are disappointed that the Chinese didn’t buy into their favorite club, the deal with rival Manchester City does make some strategic sense.

Manchester City has been moving up fast and has become a steadier team than Manchester United, especially after manager Alex Ferguson left ManU in 2013.

In the past five years, both ManU and ManC took the championship twice, while the last season was won by Chelsea.

With more money and China’s backing, Manchester City will arguably have an upper hand as it competes with its rival.

Of course, it will take time for many mainland football fans to become emotionally attached to the new China-linked club.

People will have to get accustomed to the boys in light blue, rather than the usual red jerseys (Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool) and blue (Chelsea).

The ManC deal marks the second major Chinese investment in an overseas football club this year.

In January, Dalian Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin paid 45 million euros for a 20 percent stake in Spanish soccer team Atletico Madrid.

Meanwhile, some Chinese investors had also bought into lesser-known football clubs in places such as France, Germany and Netherlands, capitalizing on the weak euro.

What is the reason for the huge Chinese interest in football clubs? 

Now, let’s hear what China Media Capital chairman Li Ruigang had to say after his firm’s latest deal.

“Football is now at a fascinating and critical stage of development in China. We see unprecedented growth opportunities in both its development as an industry, being China’s most watched sport, and its inspirational role bringing people of all ages together with a shared passion.”

Well, Li has enough reason to be upbeat as his deal is in line with China’s mission to promote football at home.

Moreover, the investment also fits neatly into the “double-H” — health and happiness — theme that has gained much traction in the country in recent months. 

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EJ Insight writer

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