The English Premier League’s highest-ever goal scorer Alan Shearer believes China will find it difficult to keep up its high-spending ways in football. “I don’t know how they will sustain paying the salaries they are paying. It’s not the right way forward," said Shearer, now a TV analyst and columnist, at The Football Movement conference in Mumbai on Friday.
The Chinese Super League teams spent around $410 million on new transfers this season, including Carlos Tevez, who is now the world’s highest paid footballer. To get a comparison, the 20-team EPL spent $263 million, according to an Associated Press report, on transfers. The 33-year-old Tevez, who moved from Boca Juniors in Argentina to Shanghai Shenhua, is reportedly the world’s highest paid footballer, earning over $770,000 a week.
“I don’t understand it," said Shearer, who was once the highest paid footballer, in 1996, with a price tag of £15 million. “If you are a professional footballer in your prime, between the age of 24-28, going on to play in China because of the money. You would instead want to play in the best leagues, against the best players and competitions." He believes, not surprisingly, that the EPL is the best league in the world.
Shanghai SIPG alone, for example, spent more than $100 million signing Brazilian pair Oscar and Hulk — and will spend many more millions on salaries, according to a CNN report.
Shearer played the Premier League from the time it was introduced in 1992 till he retired in 2006 for two clubs, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. He won the title with the former, scoring 260 career goals in the League, way higher than anyone else.
While the Chinese government, later concerned with the big spending by clubs and to encourage home-grown talent, put a cap on the number of foreign players a team could have, Shearer had similar concerns about England as well.
He said the inclusion of a large number of foreign players in the EPL is slowing down the growth of young players within the country, as a way of also explaining why the English national team has had little success in major international competitions—besides not being “up to the mark".
China and India were both discussed often in the two-day conference organized to explore business opportunities in India’s growing football sector. But both countries are in different stages of evolution and therefore not comparable, said Richard Scudamore, executive chairman, Premier League.
The Indian Super League signed up players who were on their way out or past their prime, whereas China is getting players in their peak, observed Shearer.
“It does nothing for other leagues," said Scudamore, expanding on the impact of the Chinese spending. “We have lost David Beckham (to the American MLS), among others, in the past to other leagues; losing a few people to China, they are not going to take away half of the players from Manchester United, are they?"
Scudamore disagreed with Shearer on home talent, saying 37% of the players in the EPL were English, enough of a talent pool to find 11 players for the national team.
Shearer’s former team, Blackburn Rovers, has been owned by Indian poultry firm, Venky’s, for the last few years. The team is struggling close to the bottom of the table in the second-rung Championship, and has been plagued by reports of debts, losing attendances and disenchantment of supporters. Shearer said the team desperately needed investments and more communication, better understanding between the owners and the fans.
“We (Blackburn) won the Premier League title in its third year (1994-95). We are a million miles away from that now," said Shearer, on his first trip to India.
He picked Chelsea, currently comfortably on top of the EPL table, as the likely title winners this year with the same team’s Diego Costa as the probable top scorer.