As statements go, saying you want China to win the Fifa World Cup is as big as they come. That was what then-vice president Xi Jinping did in 2011, when he announced his three dreams for Chinese football: to qualify for, host and then lift a World Cup. Everything since has been framed inside those dreams, even if the dreams themselves have changed after being put down on paper. The dreams seemed even further off at the start of the decade. The decade began with a corruption scandal that saw referee Lu Jun suspended and the Chengdu Blades and Guangzhou Pharmaceutical teams relegated from the Chinese Super League , a scandal that necessitated involvement at the very top of the Party. That involvement has only increased under Xi. After Xi took over as the general secretary of the CCP in 2012 he announced four “comprehensive” reforms of football, then the General Office of the State Council issued a 50-point plan in 2015 before the Chinese Football Association in 2016 announced their pathway to making China “a first-class football superpower” by 2050. Fifa, of course, turned a blind eye to this government involvement. Are they any closer or are they going backwards? They won the EAFF in 2010 in Japan and came third in South Korea at the end of 2019. That tells the story of the decade well enough. The Fifa rankings tell a similar story. China were 85th in 2010 and finish the decade in 76th between Bolivia and Uganda, with a low point of 97th in 2014 and a high point of 68th this October. These are not the numbers of a superpower. China’s results back that up, with several that have been disastrous enough for columnists to demand that the men’s team be disbanded. Two goalless draws with Hong Kong in the Russia 2018 qualifiers, a 2013 friendly defeat by Thailand and another loss to them in the 2019 China Cup have been low points. This year, Marcello Lippi quit the national team twice , most recently following defeat by Syria in the qualifying campaign for the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar, meaning there is more change to come in 2020. Xi’s 2015 trip to Britain was perhaps more indicative of Chinese football. He presented an ancient cuju – the ball for the Fifa recognised forerunner to the modern game – to the National Football Museum, further backing Sepp Blatter’s decision to announce China as the birthplace of football. He also posed with Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero and former China national team player Sun Jihai. This came just before the announcement that the state-tied China Media Capital had invested in 13 per cent of the City Football Group , the owners of the Manchester side and its global network of sister clubs. Money has been key to the decade. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe received Chinese investment. Both Inter and AC Milan were Chinese-owned for a brief period, while this season saw the first Uefa Champions League meeting between Chinese-owned teams when Inter met Slavia Prague in the group stages. The money has dried up, whether that’s because it never existed or the increasingly strict capital outflow controls from China. That has seen AC Milan, Atletico Madrid and Aston Villa all shed their Chinese ownership in recent seasons , although there have been successes such as Wolves . Money has been key to the outside focus on the CSL too, starting with the arrival of Argentine playmaker Dario Conca in 2011, reportedly becoming the third highest-paid player in football behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The free spending continued, with clubs attracting ever bigger names – Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Robinho included – to China. It peaked with smashing domestic and Asian transfer records by signing players such as Hulk and Oscar in the next wave of investment in 2016. A deal for Gareth Bale to make him the highest-paid footballer in the world nearly came to pass this summer before Real Madrid backed out. Not all of that money has been well spent, with Carlos Tevez being the poster boy of players chasing the cash for his ill-fated spell at Shanghai Shenhua . His trip to Disneyland with his family while his teammates were playing did little to dismiss criticisms of the CSL as a Mickey Mouse league. That’s unfair. Real estate giants Evergrande bought the disgraced Guangzhou Pharmaceutical side and the renamed club came straight back up, winning the CSL in their first season (and every season since, bar 2018). They also won the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015, under Lippi and then Luiz Felipe Scolari. Still, outside interest in Chinese football tends to focus on one of two things: the headlines and the potential riches. There are headlines galore, driven by the CFA’s and CSL’s willingness to change the rules midseason, often more than once. Tattoo bans , mandatory military camps and unpredictable bans for often innocuous offences add to that. The money aspect ensures that Fifa, foreign leagues and almost every club want their share of the spoils. It also means that morals are compromised to keep China sweet. Economic interests were at the heart of Arsenal’s decision to distance themselves from World Cup winner Mesut Ozil’s views on Xinjiang by making a statement on Weibo. The national team is yet to make a statement on the pitch. Perhaps, with the addition of naturalised players, that will change in the Qatar 2022 qualifiers and delivering a second World Cup appearance 20 years after the first. Given the constant, unpredictable rule changes, the latest of which were released Christmas Day, don’t bet on it. Xi’s dreams look set to remain nightmares for now.