Why would one of the most successful football teams in the world’s leading footballing nation buy a virtually unknown, 23-year-old player — from China?
The answer: money, of course.
On Monday, the Sao Paulo team Corinthians made the unexpected announcement that it had signed Chen Zhizhao, a midfielder who was born and raised in China’s Guangdong province.
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Corinthians won the Brazilian championship for the fifth time in December. Zhizhao’s last club, Nanchang Hengyuan, on the other hand, was nearly relegated from the Chinese Super League last season.
Even Zhizhao’s Brazilian agent conceded the player had not been signed for his pace or goal-scoring prowess. He was signed because Corinthians wanted to boost their brand in China. After all, with its population of over 1.3 billion, the country provides a sizeable consumer market for football shirts.
“We will all need to be patient with him,” Flávio Pires, his agent, told the Brazilian sports press, adding that if “it works out, it will be important to take the club’s name to a country where over 1 billion people live.”
Still, Chen could still be the next Ronaldo or Neymar, right? Not likely. Earlier this year, when the idea of buying a Chinese player first surfaced at Corinthians, the marketing director offered a blunt appraisal of the plans.
Corinthians, said Luis Paulo Rosenberg, would buy “any old rubbish from China” in order to boost the club’s profile in that corner of the globe.