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Should MLS be worried about China’s big-spending?

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There may be a few people at Major League Soccer’s headquarters looking rather nervously over their shoulders. You can’t blame them.

Something big is going on in China. Really big.

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Ahead of the 2016 Chinese Super League (CSL) season plenty of teams in China’s top-flight have been spending money like it’s going out of fashion in recent weeks as star names have flocked to China.

With the transfer window in China s still open for another 10 days ahead of the start of the season on March 4, there could be even more big-money moves to come.

[ MORE: Teixeira heads to China ]

Not only has the huge sums spent on individual players been eye-catching, but the fact that most of these players are in their prime proves the CSL is doing something MLS has been trying to do — and having mixed results with — for years. Getting players to leave established leagues in their prime. Sebastian Giovinco is the best example of this MLS has and after that, there’s not too many others to choose from.

In a 10-day spell this month the CSL transfer fee record was broken three times. First Ramires left Chelsea for Jiangsu Suning for $30 million, then Jackson Martinez left Atletico Madrid for Guangzhou Evergrande for a fee of $45 million and then came Jiangsu Suning’s capture of Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk for $56 million. All of these players are on astronomical wages and it’s tough to question their motives about leaving some of the biggest teams and competitions in the world for the riches China offers.

The sheer fact that clubs are forking out these kind of transfer fees — MLS historically doesn’t like to pay big fees for incoming foreign talent — shows you the wealth they possess, with many owned by state run companies. Of course there are other issues around China as a country and the pollution levels present, but at the end of the day these players are heading to the CSL to do one thing: get money. At least right now, and it shows no signs of stopping.

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Other impressive names to join the CSL include Demba Ba, Gervinho, Fredy Guarin, Paulinho and Asamoah Gyan, plus former Seattle Sounders forward Fredy Montero has also arrived. With each CSL team allowed four overseas players on their roster, plus one player from another Asian Football Confederation nation, there is some limit to their spending which keeps it from spiraling out of control and it is not unlike the Designated Player rule in MLS

The biggest question you and I have is: will this model be sustainable?

Well, let’s wait and see but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the majority of people who pump their money into owning and running a soccer team never actually make money. That’s the way it works all over the globe and China is no different. The crowds have been steadily on the rise among the CSL’s 16 teams with attendance figures for the 2015 season up by 16.8 percent from the previous year and the average gate was 22,193.

Chelsea midfielder Ramires challenges Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo (7) during the first half of the International Champions Cup final soccer game, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2013, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Given all of the positives and hubbub around the CSL, you have to remember that the long-term infrastructure of clubs is still not there. MLS is way more advanced in that respect, even though it’s average attendance for 2015 was slightly lower at 21,574. With academy teams producing more and more North American talent, MLS has put the building blocks in place to be a sustainable league capable of producing its own players while also improving the off-field product which Soccer Specific Stadiums across the league are an example of. There is still plenty of work to do in MLS, but over two decades the respect levels for it have grown steadily.

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However, due to the huge splash the CSL is making with these monster signings, it’s evident that China’s clubs want to catch up fast to MLS and try to overtake other emerging domestic leagues outside of the Europa and South America. For instance, following Corinthians winning the Brazilian title they sold four of their players in one week. All four went to China and all were paid salaries which made their livings in Brazil look paltry. It’s not just the players either as Sven-Goran Eriksson and Luiz Felipe Scolari manage two of the top teams in Shanghai SIPG and Guanghzou Evergrande respectively. The latter has won the title five times in a row and also won the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015.

The CSL is only 11 years old but with President Xi Jinping putting a huge emphasis on soccer with 20,000 schools enrolled in a mandatory program to have students play the game, plus recently he visited Manchester City on a trip to the UK — weeks later City announced they’d sold a 13 percent stake in the club for $400 million to state-owned companies in China — and the Premier League side is now exploring many opportunities to expand their brand in China. It seems like there’s a huge push for the sport to become mainstream. With many top class teams traveling to China over the past few years to play in preseason tournaments, expect that to continue and not far from now the CSL will go head-to-head with MLS for players heading towards the end of their career.

I’m talking about Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi. If those guys ever want to move abroad, would China or North America be a better option?

We know the kind of money on offer in the CSL is incredible. And it is the same in MLS for the DPs, but even those levels have dropped off in recent years following the departure of David Beckham and Thierry Henry. The proof will be in the pudding in years to come as the CSL continue to sell its TV rights for huge sums of money — the TV deal for the next five years is at $1.18 billion, over 30 times larger than the last deal — and the level of play continues to rise with more players arriving in their prime.

CHINA OUT  BEIJING, CHINA - JUNE 20: Ultra supporters of the Beijing Guoan FC wave flags as police stand guard during their Chinese Super League match against Tianjin FC on June 20, 2015 in Beijing, China. There are growing legions of ardent supporters and fans of China's football clubs. The government is also trying to foster a football culture in the country by mandating football programs in 20,000 Chinese schools in a recent plan devised by President Xi Jinping. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

In the past the Middle East offered huge sums for a players at the end of their careers — remember images of Gabriel Batistuta and the De Boer brothers playing in Qatar’s Stars League about a decade ago? — and many would claim MLS have done the same for most of the last decade in attempts to become more popular and grow their brand. That has now become a part of MLS’ model but not the main part. The CSL has taken a huge step forward in recent weeks to becoming the overseas league players in Europe will want to join purely from a financial standpoint. Even if many would prefer to live in the U.S. and Canada to see out their playing days, going to China to play in the emerging and mega-wealthy top-flight is becoming hugely attractive.

That in itself is perhaps the biggest reason why MLS should be worried. It’s ability to attract star names to fill stadiums could be impacted in the future as the CSL’s dramatic rise continues.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool, Chelsea through to UCL knockouts

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle on Liverpool’s nervy 2-0 win against Red Bull Salzburg to take first place in Group E of the Champions League (1:55), Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Lille to secure a place in the Round of 16 (13:15) and who is the current favorite to win it all (20:45).

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Plus, what Arsenal’s come-from-behind 3-1 win at West Ham means for both London clubs (29:10) and the Robbies discuss what they’re looking forward to most at the next Live Premier League Mornings Fan Fest in Miami Beach (46:05).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow them on Twitter @The2RobbiesNBC here.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

PL Club Power Rankings: Week 16

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The Premier League didn’t issue too many surprises at the bottom of the table this week, but two top-tier sides didn’t behave as such and shook up our rankings.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Chelsea and Man City have dipped low, and Bournemouth’s skid doesn’t have it sinking lower (yet) because of the teams beneath it.

Green: New season-high ranking
Red: New season-low

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings archive ]


20. Watford — Liverpool and Manchester United are next, and it’s looking a long way back to safety.
Last week: 20
Season high: 17
Season low: 20
Last match: Drew 0-0 v. Crystal Palace
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday at Liverpool

19. Norwich City — Outshot, out-passed, our possessed Sheffield United at home and still lost. Bad vibes, man.
Last week: 18
Season high: 10
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Sheffield United
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Leicester City

18. West Ham United — Just feels like there’s something lurking below the surface here. Doesn’t smell right given the Irons talent.
Last week: 17
Season high: 5
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 3-1 v. Arsenal
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Southampton

17. Bournemouth — Losing to Liverpool is no shame, but it’s almost officially time to worry.
Last week: 16
Season high: 6
Season low: 17
Last match: Lost 3-0 v. Liverpool
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Chelsea

16. Aston Villa — Tom Heaton is a heck of a goalkeeper but he can’t be expected to save four A-plus danger chances per game.
Last week: 14
Season high: 8
Season low: 16
Last match: Lost 4-1 v. Leicester City
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Sheffield United

15. Southampton — West Ham and Villa back-to-back have to provide four points if Saints revival is to be believed.
Last week: 15
Season high: 13
Season low: 20
Last match: Lost 2-1 at Newcastle United
Up next: 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday v. West Ham United

14. Everton — Duncan Ferguson gives the Toffees board reason enough to be patient with their managerial hire, and then Napoli goes and fires Carlo Ancelotti.
Last week: 19
Season high: 5
Season low: 19
Last match: Won 3-1 v. Chelsea
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Manchester United

13. Burnley — The defending against Spurs — we know, Spurs are good — was enough to drop them far lower than four spots. Abject stuff from a Sean Dyche side.
Last week: 9
Season high: 5
Season low: 15
Last match: Lost 5-0 at Spurs
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Newcastle

12. Arsenal — Freddie Ljungberg started Nicolas Pepe, and Nicholas Pepe was his best player. Stunning stuff, really. Look at the assist below.
Last week: 13
Season high: 4
Season low: 12
Last match: Won 3-1 at West Ham
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Man City

11. Crystal Palace — I want to believe, but am holding out for something more. A derby win versus Brighton would suffice.
Last week: 7
Season high: 5
Season low: 18
Last match: Drew 0-0 at Watford
Up next: 2:45 p.m. ET Monday v. Brighton

10. Newcastle United — Again, Steve Bruce‘s men are getting tremendous Fortune and he’s pushing almost all the right buttons (It takes guts to start Andy Carroll over the struggling record signing Joelinton). This could be a sign of the Geordie Apocalypse.
Last week: 11
Season high: 11
Season low: 20
Last match: Won 2-1 v. Southampton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday at Burnley

9. Sheffield United — A little wobbly lately, but still a good comeback at Carrow Road.
Last week: 10
Season high: 5
Season low: 17
Last match: Won 2-1 at Norwich City
Up next: 10 a.m ET Saturday v. Aston Villa

8. Brighton and Hove Albion — Doesn’t it say something that a country who starves for young, strong English coaches had one sitting in Sweden for eight years? Graham Potter is legit.
Last week: 12
Season high: 6
Season low: 18
Last match: Won 2-1 at Arsenal
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday v. Wolves

7. Chelsea — Some of those young guys who’ve played so well, so early, are looking a little ragged. It’s a shame Frank Lampard is still waiting on Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who will really help things take another step.
Last week: 5
Season high: 2
Season low: 12
Last match: Lost 3-1 at Everton
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Bournemouth

6. Manchester City — It probably has nothing to do with the system, and a lot to do with not having Aymeric Laporte, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane… Still, it needs to be better than a home derby loss to a Paul Pogba-less United.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 6
Last match: Lost 2-1 v. Manchester United
Up next: 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday at Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur — We’re gonna need multiple screens on Sunday morning, as Wolves-Spurs and Man Utd-Everton are both must-monitor.
Last week: 8
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 5-0 v. Burnley
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday at Wolves

4. Manchester United — Ole’s at the wheel, and still doesn’t feel like Lewis Hamilton or anything but we’re not worried about heading off a cliff.
Last week: 6
Season high: 2
Season low: 16
Last match: Won 2-1 at Man City
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Everton

3. Wolves — Beat Spurs on Sunday and I’ll go ahead and bet on them as a Top Four finisher, even after the Brighton draw failed to deliver the goods.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 17
Last match: Drew 2-2 at Brighton
Up next: 9 a.m. ET Sunday v. Spurs

2. Leicester City — Wow.
Last week: 2
Season high: 2
Season low: 10
Last match: Won 4-1 at Aston Villa
Up next: 10 a.m. ET Saturday v. Norwich City

1. Liverpool — Wow, only atop the table.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 3
Last match: Won 3-0 at Bournemouth
Up next: 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday v. Watford

Champions League Weds. preview: Two spots remain

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Only two spots remain in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, and those will be settled Wednesday afternoon.

In Group C, hosts Shakhtar Donetsk need to beat Atalanta to go through, while the visitors can also go through with a win if Dinamo Zagreb fails to defeat Man City.

[ MORE: Ancelotti reportedly speaking w/ Everton ]

In Group D, Atletico Madrid is through with a win over Lokomotiv Moscow, though Bayer Leverkusen can complete a remarkable comeback from an 0-3 start to the group stage if they beat already-qualified Juve and Atleti loses to their Russian visitors.

You certainly wouldn’t be against Diego Simeone there, though.

“Tomorrow is a great opportunity, every day that you wear the Atletico shirt is,” Simeone said, via Marca. “I believe in my team, in the humility that they have at the moment. The results will come based on what they are demonstrating on the field.”

Premier League sides Man City and Tottenham Hotspur both have their fortunes settled, with City having won Group C and Spurs settled into Group B’s second spot, but they still have plenty to figure out on Tuesday.

Jose Mourinho’s Spurs are going up against a Bayern team that walloped them at home, while City is living an unusual 2W-3D-2L lull in form.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action

12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb v. Man City

3 p.m. ET
Club Brugge v. Real Madrid
Atletico Madrid v. Lokomotiv Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen v. Juventus
Paris Saint-Germain v. Galatasaray
Olympiacos v. Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich v. Tottenham Hotspur

Ancelotti fired by Napoli as Everton, Arsenal lurk

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Carlo Ancelotti won a place in the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, then lost his job.

The Napoli’s boss strained relationship with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis came to a head, with the Neapolitan side advancing in Europe to end a nine-match winless run.

[ MORE: Sporting KC adds Liga MX top scorer ]

That run may’ve included seven draws, but it also saw Napoli dip into seventh on the Serie A table. They are seven points back of sixth and 17 points behind leaders Juventus.

A strained relationship got worse when Ancelotti refused to take the team on a De Laurentiis-ordered “team retreat” following a draw against Salzburg in early November.

Gennaro Gattuso is rumored as Ancelotti’s replacement, and the fired coach himself is being mentioned as an immediate target for Arsenal and Everton.

In fact, the Toffees are in discussions with the Italian legend already, according to Sky Sports. Football Italia claims Arsenal is in on the action, too.

Ancelotti has won the Champions League with AC Milan twice and a third time with Real Madrid. He’s claimed domestic titles in five of Europe’s top leagues, with silverware at Chelsea, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid.