Chinese football aims to be top in Asia

SHANGHAI • China wants its domestic league to be the best in Asia and No. 6 in the world as the country ramps up its ambitions to become a major men's footballing power by 2050.

Li Yuyi, the Chinese Super League (CSL) chairman, told Xinhua news agency that a better league is a priority and hopes that it will ultimately benefit the national side.

The league has made headlines in recent years by luring big-name players and coaches from Europe with hefty salaries.

Chinese players, though, have yet to make an impact with the national team 74th in the Fifa rankings and only Wu Lei, the Espanyol forward, playing regularly in a major European league.

But the Chinese Football Association (CFA) and President Xi Jinping, a big football fan, have big plans and want to host - and one day win - the World Cup.

Said Li, who is also CFA vice-president: "We will work hard to develop our league to be the top in Asia and No. 6 in the world.

"It is a general rule that if a team had a good result in the World Cup, it always had many players (who) played in the world-leading professional leagues."

The CSL had average crowds of 24,000 last year, according to Xinhua, making it the sixth-best supported after the English Premier League, Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's LaLiga, Italy's Serie A and Mexico's Liga MX.

Under Xi, China launched a football development plan in 2015 that aims to get hundreds of millions of children into the sport.

The government will this year begin a pilot scheme introducing football to kindergartens across the country.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2019, with the headline 'Chinese football aims to be top in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe