THERE IS a China crisis in football.
Strict Covid restrictions and the country’s sluggish economy have seriously delayed President Xi Jinping’s planned revolution in the game.
Most notably, the pandemic and wage restraints have shaken Xi’s dream plan.
This was for foreign players on the slide for spectacular rewards in heavily funded teams that came with thousands of pitches to encourage the proletariat.
Here, too, the fixation on league football spilled over.
Because once upon a time, Aston Villa, Wolves, Birmingham City and West Brom all had Chinese multi-millionaire owners.
Villa was happy to get rid of her 2019, Blues have been trying for years.
Albion fans hate their what leaves wolves, who have generally been treated well by Fosun Group, whose interests range from Covid vaccinations to Thomas Cook.
Professional football in the Middle East’s oil states attracts mercenaries who previously would have turned to the Chinese Super League to fund their bank accounts.
Paul Gascoigne in 2003 was a rarity.
He wanted to play somewhere.
Elsewhere, the yuan has been surprisingly high since 2004.
Oscar, the former Chelsea Brazilian, and Carlos Tevez, aka West Ham, are two who have paved their retirements in gold.
Oscar was making £550,000 a week while Tevez was ‘just’ pocketing £400,000 a week.
Hundreds and hundreds of others from around the world joined the gold rush – no fewer than 232 from Brazil.
Then came Covid…
In the country where the pandemic originated, the government responded with a rigid lockdown for almost three years.
Big clubs have closed and a cap of £3million a year has been put on all earnings.
Although the Chinese Super League attracts many people in the populous cities and most of its 16 clubs still have foreigners, the level is not particularly high.
And football lovers get their biggest kicks from the Premier League.
Your national team has qualified for the World Cup once every 40 years.
But Xi believes in sports as an obligatory community activity – like any good communist.
And after that goalless failure in 2002, his response was to create new pitches on a stunning scale of 600 by 82 at Hackney Marshes.
Such political orders rarely work, and in fact only about 3,000 have been issued to date.
And despite pictures showing many boys training in military fashion and a population of 1.4 billion, China has failed to produce an international star.
Obviously the production line is not working well and even slower since the Chinese claim to have invented soccer.
Because hands and feet were used, it resembled rugby more than football.
Eventually it was banned in the Middle Ages under the Ming Dynasty (no relation to Tyrone).
Xi is a fan of physical exercise for the masses.
An official national goal is for China to become the best team in Asia by 2030 and world champion by 2050 – both are just conceivable, but not until attitudes change.
European coaches there say parents want their children to become, for example, accountants or nuclear scientists and are suspicious when kicks throw them off their studies.
That largely explains why about as many people as on Sunday morning at the Hackney Marshes actually play the game in their spare time.
Meanwhile, the kids they want to get into the game are among the ultramillion watching the Premier League on TV.
Gazza was a rare Brit to try China, and not because he wanted to study nuclear fusion.
He stayed two months and then went home.