Out-of-work champs seek fresh start

Fallen CSL winner Jiangsu’s ex-players scrambling to find new employment

  Wu Xi [Photo/Xinhua]

While Wu Xi has secured new employment with Shanghai Shenhua, many of his former Jiangsu FC teammates have not been so lucky following the breakup of the Chinese Super League champion.

“It’s already the 12th year for me to play in the CSL, and I have returned to the starting point of my career-Shenhua. Shanghai was the city where I started my soccer dream,” 32-year-old midfielder Wu, who helped the club then known as Jiangsu Suning win its first CSL title last season, wrote on Weibo after arriving back at Shenhua last week.

“Thanks to Shenhua for continuing to pay attention to me in such a complicated situation,” he added.

“The squad has welcomed me back as an ‘old’ new member. I also want to thank all the media and fans who keep supporting me. In the new season, I will try my best to produce better results for the team.”

Wu’s change of employment has been necessitated by Jiangsu FC’s financial collapse, with the club last month announcing it was ceasing operations amid little hope that it can find new investment to compete in the forthcoming campaign, which is provisionally scheduled to kick off on April 20.

Jiangsu’s problems are part of a wider malaise in the Chinese game, with many clubs buckling under the strain of massive debt following years of imprudent financial management.

Tianjin Jinmen Tiger, previously known as Tianjin Teda, is also expected to miss out next season after reportedly failing to submit its “salary and bonus confirmation form”-a requirement to complete the team’s registration-before last month’s deadline.

“I’ve been in Jiangsu for nine years. I started family here, lived here and worked here. I never thought I would leave the city in this way. Everything that happened here is like a movie to me, and I remember every detail, “wrote Wu on Weibo.” We had the best time with the club and we were at the bottom. There was happiness and sadness.

“It’s a pity I couldn’t wear Jiangsu’s jersey with a star in front of my chest, but that star will always be in my heart,” Wu added, referring to the CSL custom of embroidering a star on the champion team’s shirt.

“Before I say goodbye to the club, I just want to express my best wishes to Jiangsu. I want to wish the best of luck to all my teammates who fought with me. And I wish the best for all the Jiangsu fans who never quit on us.”

Ex-Jiangsu defender Li Ang has also found a new job, with CSL giant Shanghai Port announcing his arrival on Sunday.

“I walked into Jiangsu’s youth team with my father when I was 13 years old and I spent the most important seven years at the club’s base to start my career. I did not earn back too much honor, instead I was more like a little troublemaker,” Li wrote on Weibo.

“But Jiangsu always treated me as their own kid and thank you for molding me into a professional player. I started my pro career in 2014 and I played 211 games for Jiangsu. I was honored to win with my teammates. Jiangsu is my roots and will always be my family.

“Now I want to thank Shanghai Port’s timely attention, and I’m honored to join the club. I will keep pursuing excellence and embark on a new journey. Thanks everyone who helped to make all this happen.”

On Monday, Zhejiang Pro-reportedly one of the potential replacements for Jiangsu and Tianjin Jinmen Tiger in this year’s top flight-announced the signing of former Jiangsu goalkeeper Gu Chao.

However, for less-renowned players, especially reserve and youth-squad members, finding a new club is a significantly more difficult task.

Recent media reports claim some second-tier China League One clubs are only offering about 7,000 yuan ($1,076) monthly salary before tax to young players, sparking heated debate on social media last week.

While many people found it hard to believe that a professional soccer player could earn less than an everyday fitness coach at a gym, others were less sympathetic, arguing it was merely a necessary consequence of the bursting of Chinese soccer’s big-spending bubble.

The end of that era was hastened by the pandemic-affected 2020 season, which was shortened and mostly played behind closed doors due to COVID-19. The resulting loss in ticket and merchandise revenue hit already-struggling clubs hard.

Even for clubs that can still count on major outside investment, the introduction of a new salary cap by the Chinese Football Association in December is restricting clubs’ spending and further limiting employment opportunities for players of disbanded teams.

Before the start of the 2020 season, 16 teams were forced to quit China’s pro ranks due to money troubles. According to Chinese publication Soccer News, the CFA will reveal the clubs that are able to play the 2021 season in late March.

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