Lagos - Despite receiving a major investment from a Chinese consortium, Manchester City has a lot of catching up to do if hopes to compete with Premier League rivals Manchester United and Arsenal for popularity in the world's most populous nation.
Manchester City announced Tuesday that a consortium led by China Media Capital and investment company Citic Capital paid around $400 million for a 13 percent stake in the team's parent company City Football Group, owned by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyana. CFG also owns the New York City and Melbourne City soccer teams and has a 20% stake in Japanese club Yokohama F. Marinos.
Big-spending City has won two English titles in the past four seasons, but lacks the European success and support around the world commanded by some other to Premier League sides.
Gu Xin, an analyst at Beijing sports marketing company Yutang Sports, says a recent report in China indicates the team has plenty of ground to make up.
"It showed 31.98 percent of English Premier League fans in China support Manchester United and 22.65 percent of them back Arsenal, with Chelsea having a similar share," Gu told The Associated Press. "However, Manchester City supporters in China only make up 5.47 percent of China's Premier League fans.
"If City aims to become the most popular European football team, they will need to contest against not only those English teams but also other European football giants like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Bayern Munich," he added. "But overall it all depends on what the club does."
European clubs have struggled to achieve success in China and Simon Chadwick, professor of Sports Enterprise at England's Salford University, puts it down to aggressive sales-driven tactics.
"These types of approach only disaffect and antagonize some Chinese people," Chadwick said. "Hence, City's approach is rather more considered and strategic and could succeed where others have failed. I think working in partnership with the Chinese is the way to break into China."
City has some advantages in this respect.
Former Chinese international Sun Jihai played for the Manchester City from 2002 to 2008 and in November was made an official ambassador for the club.
"For an overseas football club, which is keen for more presence in China, Chinese factors are really good marketing," Gu said. "For City, there are a couple of high-profile Chinese factors."
One of those factors is Sun The other is the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping, when on a state visit to the United Kingdom in November, also visited Manchester City.
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"I am sure this was the point at which the deal was signed and sealed," Chadwick said. "The Chinese president doesn't normally attend such events unless they are of the utmost importance. The fact that he visited City tends to suggest just how important this deal is for China and its football ambitions."
In China, the reaction to the deal has centered on its possible consequences for the domestic game. With just one appearance at the World Cup in 2002, the Chinese national team has not come close to qualification since and is struggling to reach Russia 2018.
There has been an improvement in the domestic league thanks to investment in clubs by various businessmen and Chinese companies. Guangzhou Evergrande, co-owned by a property developer and Jack Ma, the CEO of Internet giant Alibaba, has spent over $150 million on players and coaches since 2010. In November the club won a second Asian Champions League in three years.
"This time last year, China announced a plan to create a domestic sport economy worth $850 billion by 2025," Chadwick said. "An important part of this vision is China's desire to bid for, host and win the World Cup. Buying City is a way of acquiring competence, intelligence and insights into football."
There has been speculation in China that a Chinese club could be the next addition to the CFG international stable with Beijing Guoan seen as the most likely candidate.
Buying a Chinese club is the next logical step according to Christopher Atkins, a Guangzhou-based player representative with RWMG Sports, but just the beginning.
"There is no reason why the Chinese Super League cannot establish itself as the best non-European league," Atkins said. "The addition of the knowledge that a company like CFG can bring would surely only help. I expect CFG to look into the prospect of an academy in China in the fairly short-term future. If they can produce China's first superstar, their status in the market would be elevated yet further."