Last updated on December 1st, 2022
China is one of the biggest and most prosperous countries in the world. It may come as a great shock when you can hardly find the Chinese men’s national team in the limelight.
Moreover, they are not playing in the 2022 World Cup either!
Here’s what you need to know about the struggles that may be preventing the Chinese national team from attaining outstanding success in men’s football.
Why isn’t China In The 2022 World Cup?
Since China is among the top 34 teams in the Asian continent, the men’s football team received a bye from the first round of qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. They entered the race in the second round and were pitted against Syria, Maldives, Philippines, and Guam in the same group for their qualifiers.
China finished in second place on 19 points, two points behind group winners Syria. This earned them qualification for the third round of the competition. They managed to score the most goals in their section and only lost one match in their group, leading to increased optimism as they went into the third round.
For the third round, 12 teams were placed in two groups of six teams, with only the top two teams in each group claiming automatic qualification for the World Cup in Qatar.
The Chinese national team was drawn against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Australia, Oman, and Vietnam.
China had the second-lowest FIFA ranking among the six teams in their group, ranking only higher than Vietnam.
China finished the campaign in fifth place, having picked up only six points from 10 matches in the group.
They won only once and lost six games to end their hopes of qualifying for the competition.
Nevertheless, Chinese star Wu Lei who plays for Spanish club Espanyol scored 12 goals in the qualifiers for his country.
China’s History in the World Cup
The failure to qualify for the finals in Qatar only adds to the pain felt by Chinese fans for the lack of success of their national team.
China has only ever qualified for the FIFA World Cup on one occasion, in the 2002 edition held in Korea/Japan. They lost all three of their group games in that edition without scoring a single goal and finished at the bottom of their group.
Furthermore, they have failed to qualify for every edition of the competition since then.
As a result, the Chinese men’s national team is currently ranked 77th globally, a far cry from the ranking expected of the country.
Why isn’t football in China good enough?
Here are 4 reasons why China’s footballing scene is not up to par with other countries:
#1 Lack of High-Quality Players
A crucial factor that certainly plays a huge part in China’s lack of success in international football is their general lack of high-quality players. The biggest player in Chinese football is presently Wu Lei, who is the only Chinese footballer in Europe’s top five leagues.
Their other foreign-based player who plays for the national team is Lei Li, and he plays for the Swiss side Grasshopper.
You can find out more about the differences between club football and international football here.
In addition, for the last round of World Cup qualifiers in March 2022, their most experienced player was Guangzhou FC defender Zhang Linpeng, who has 92 caps for his country.
However, despite being likened to Paris Saint Germain defender Sergio Ramos by his former manager Marcelo Lippi, the 32-year-old has never set foot in a European club in his career.
#2 Failure in the Chinese Super League
A quick look at the Chinese men’s national team side that played the international break in March 2022 showed that no foreign-based player was included.
This would not be a problem if the Chinese Super League itself were doing well!
In the AFC Champions League, the last time a Chinese team emerged victoriously was in 2015, when Guangzhou Evergrande won the title. On that occasion, Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Goulart was the player of the Tournament.
The scorer of the winning goal for the side was striker Elkeson, and the Brazilian has since taken up Chinese citizenship.
The most significant players for the Chinese club side were foreigners, with their own players reduced to supporting acts.
Seven years and six editions of the competition have gone by without another Chinese side coming close to winning it. This proves that the teams in the Chinese Super League have weaker teams than those in the other Asian countries.
Last year, in fact, no single Chinese club made it out of the competition’s group stage, with both of the country’s representatives finishing at the bottom of their respective groups. It is difficult to see players thrive and develop properly, when the league itself does not have enough quality.
The inability to produce quality players locally has seen the Chinese football chiefs turn to naturalised foreigners such as Nico Yennaris, Alan, Tyias Browning, and Elkeson to represent them.
This is in conjunction with hiring some foreign managers such as Marcelo Lippi, Alain Perrin, Fabio Cannavaro, and Jose Antonio Camacho as coaches over the years.
Most times, Chinese players like to ply their trade within the confines of their own country. However, this gives them a choice to only play in the Chinese Super League, which is not a highly ranked league in world football.
#3 Financial Troubles facing Chinese Super League
The growth of the Chinese Super League in the mid-to-late 2010s was due to the influx of a massive amount of money into the league. This allowed clubs to sign some of the most prominent players in world football and pay them outrageous sums of money.
As a result, players like Carlos Tevez, Oscar, Hulk, Renato Augusto, John Mikel Obi, Demba Ba, and Odion Ighalo all featured for Chinese clubs in this period.
Tevez earned around £35 million in 2017 for his contribution to his club, Shanghai Shenhua. Furthermore, Shanghai Port FC signed Oscar from Chelsea for a reported £60 million in the same year, and he has been at the club ever since.
Apart from Hulk and Augusto, all these players had starred in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League before moving to China.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese football took a huge hit financially due to dwindling revenues. This same problem hit almost every major league globally, but they managed to cope with it due to their structure.
The problem in China was that even before COVID, many clubs were struggling to keep their heads above water, with player and staff wages piling up. Things got to a head when clubs began to fold up for good due to their inability to maintain finances.
About a year ago, in March 2021, Jiangsu FC (formerly Jiangsu Suning) closed down only months after winning the Chinese Super League. Again, this is an example of the precarious financial state of Chinese football.
At the time Jiangsu FC shut down, a total of 15 other clubs had faced the same fate in China’s top three divisions.
Several other clubs have gone bankrupt, and it seems like only a matter of time before they face a similar fate. For example, Shandong Luneng was disqualified from the AFC Champions League due to salaries owed to staff.
The Chinese Super League itself is in a period of uncertainty due to its financial situation, as most clubs are affected by the latest developments. In addition, the league can no longer attract the biggest names in world football as it did in the past because of strict salary caps imposed by the governing body.
#4 Lack of proper investment in football
Also, the Chinese invest their time and resources significantly in many sports, such as table tennis and gymnastics, but the same cannot be said of football at present. Therefore, their success in these sports is much greater and more evident than football.
In Europe, America, and other parts of Asia, organised football starts in the under-9 age group. This means that players are exposed to proper coaching and training from this young age, moulding them into the professional footballers they would grow up to be.
This system has worked and is working everywhere it has been implemented, with the likes of England’s Reece James, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka all products of the system.
Investing in children’s football has generally been lacking in Chinese football, as has been pointed out on occasion.
It is clear why China will not be in the Qatar 2022 World Cup, and this is the same reason they’ve only participated once in the competition.
Apart from reaching the 2002 World Cup, the Chinese men’s football national team has found it challenging to make a wave at the highest level of football.
There are no two reasons other than the fact that the Chinese national team has failed to produce quality players to represent the country. In fact, only a few of the Chinese players are playing in Europe’s top-five leagues.
China has not been good enough when it comes to football, and the Chinese Super League has also not been at the level it should be.
Furthermore, China has not taken the investment in children’s football quite seriously, depriving them of the opportunity to groom excellence into players from a young age.
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