No comfort for fans of Chinese clubs after another raid on the bargain basement of foreign players
Former Watford striker Odion Ighalo could only resist temptation so long and made a spectacular £20 million switch; the latest in a long list of ‘pioneers’ to head east
God works in mysterious ways. A year ago, he was telling Watford striker Odion Ighalo to resist temptation and turn down a £10 million offer from Hebei China Fortune to go east.
The Chinese club offered the Nigerian international £200,000 a week on four-year contract.
Ighalo couldn’t sleep for three days. His conscience nagged. He was on a roll with 14 goals – so why tempt fate? One of the Premier League big boys might come calling. But then again, they might not.
His teammates were telling him not to look a gift horse in the mouth and just sign, for heaven’s sake. That kind of money is not easy to turn down. He twisted and turned. Exhausted and torn, he looked toward the deity.
“I prayed about it, and God said it was not for me, no matter how much money it was. I knew God would direct me,” said the devout Christian, who dedicates all of his goals to God.
He declared he was staying put at the yo-yoing mediocre club just north of London, where little happens apart from a cup tie every century or so, relegation and promotion here and there, and ever rarer sightings of iconic piano player and club hero Elton John.
From Hebei came a collective “huh!”. More money was offered. Almost £300,000 a week. But God had said no, and when God says no, Ighalo says no.
It’s not about the money. God could not be bought, so by default, nor could he, Ighalo told the puzzled Chinese. There was to be one more on-pitch dedication to God that season as Ighalo notched up another goal to take his tally to 15. Not bad.
Into the 2016-17 season strode the pious one. But alas, the dedications have been few this campaign – only one after his single goal. The 27-year-old had gone from hero to zero and some sections of the fans were become hostile; 93 per cent said in an online poll he should be sold.
And, lo, God did speak again. During the January transfer window that closed on Monday, another Chinese club, Changchun Yatai, came bearing bundles of cash – a whopping £20m, with a £200,000 a week wage.
You can imagine the prayer this time was short and sweet. God probably said “take it, man!”, or words to that effect, and you can picture Ighalo on bent knees at the end of his bed, hands clasped in worship, nodding frantically in agreement.
He didn’t really need God’s help to read the writing on the wall. He knew the Watford board blinked once in surprise at such a staggering sum for an out-of-sorts player into the last third of his career – and were certainly not going to bat an eyelid a second time.
Let’s be honest, though Ighalo is a fine player, he’s not worth £20m. Not even close.
Meantime, up in the north of England, the Chinese were finding the going tough. Henan Jianye made a move for League One club Scunthorpe’s Kevin van Veen on deadline day with an offer too ludicrous to be real.
They slapped down £4m for the Dutchman. However, the people of Scunthorpe are a down-to-earth, shrewd folk. Instead of grabbing the cash, they demanded £8m. Luckily for Henan Jianye fans, someone has a head screwed on correctly because the club backed away.
That the Chinese game is about anything other than money is not up for debate. Declaring you are heading out to football’s frontier to improve the game is drivel.
Ighalo’s move will be good for his family, a noble act; but let us not think he and others heading east are football missionaries.
The Chinese game is but a seam of gold to be exploited and mined. Granted, part of that mine was recently sealed off by the boss in Beijing but there are still plenty of nuggets to be had.
China is the place to go for the bucket list retirement fund (if the millions in the bank already are not enough) – a working museum-cum-rest home for players like Rooney and Oscar to be heroes for one more day.
During this festive time, it’s the Chinese fans who need to pray – not to the god of wealth, Caishen, worshipped by the billionaires who run their clubs and country.
But to the Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin, to take pity on their poor souls as they are forced to watch overpriced players well past their sell-by date milking Chinese football for all it is worth.