Chinese football not yet a threat to EPL: Wenger

LONDON • Arsene Wenger has praised the growth in Chinese football and hopes India will soon "come to the game" as well but says it will be a long time before either can truly compete with the English Premier League (EPL).

The January transfer window has been dominated by stories linking the biggest stars in the Premier League - from Diego Costa to Dimitri Payet - with big-money moves to China.

However, Wenger believes it will take years for China to build a football culture that can properly compete with those in Europe.

"You do not create a top league just like that," the Arsenal manager said.

"When you want to be a football player, your first aspiration is to play in the best league with the best players. After that, you want to combine playing in the best league with the best players for the maximum amount of money.

"That combination is best in England right now. But professional football in England was created 150 years ago. I believe it's a slow process of creating a football culture.

"In China it's new. So it will take time. But China has moved forward. It tries to promote football and I'm happy that football has become popular in China. I also expect India to come to the game too."

Wenger has also warned that the huge wages on offer in the Chinese Super League will set a benchmark for all players in contract talks with European clubs and cause massive pay inflation.

The Frenchman has been struggling to tie down Mesut Ozil to a new deal, with the midfielder expecting around £250,000 (S$439,370) a week, while Alexis Sanchez's contract will also expire next summer.

"That's the danger, that the Chinese offers become the benchmark for Europe," Wenger said. "You cannot compete with that."

However, Chinese football authorities have said that they will impose salary caps on domestic clubs and send auditors to probe their finances, signalling a crackdown on the record-breaking transfers.

Clubs who spend "extremely high sums" on transfer fees will be required to put proportional amounts into Chinese youth football programmes, the China Football Association (CFA) said in a statement late on Thursday.

THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese football not yet a threat to EPL: Wenger'. Print Edition | Subscribe