James Corrigan: No caps but richer than Rooney. Conca proves it's nuts in China

The Way I See It: The football industry is ready to exploit sport's freshest goldmine.

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The Independent Online

Go east, young man. Go east, old man. Go east, young lady. Go east, old lady. Go east, everyone and anyone who is connected to sport. It may not be where it is yet, but it is where it will soon be.

The American dream is dead; the Oriental reality takes over. Sport follows money as surely as night follows day, as determinedly as Robbie Savage follows the paparazzi. And as the western recession marches on, so sport will begin to scamper away to pastures new. Indeed, it already has; to China, most notably.

Golf's upping its roots, as is tennis. This week here in Shanghai has witnessed the sixth staging of the HSBC Champions, which, with the appearance fees, outlaid an estimated $15m (£9.4m) budget on a 78-man field. That followed a week after the $5m Shanghai Masters outlaid $20m on a 30-man field. It reminded of what Ernie Els once replied when asked if he thought the £1m prize that week was ludicrous and whether he was entirely comfortable playing for it. "Yes and yes," said the South African.

Yes this is golf and Communism doesn't come into it; even when golf comes into Communism. Rory McIlroy has been in China for three of the last four weeks and has earned well in excess of £3m. In the intervening week the poor dab was on slave wages – £165,000 for two days' work. But then, if you do insist on slumming it in Bermuda...

Still, the absence may well have made the Chinese hearts grow fonder. That seemed the case when watching his new manager, Conor Ridge, being all but jumped by a gang of Chinese businessmen. It would be interesting to fast-forward two decades and see how much McIlroy will make in China and how many days he will spend there. My guess is £200m.

It was impossible to stop the imagination from running away when seeing the audience at Sheshan International Golf Club. Thirty years ago, young Chinese men and women were told to stop dancing at a Jean Michel Jarre concert in Shanghai. In the same city yesterday their delight was unconfined, the whoops and yells rivalling any golfing crowd anywhere. It was electrifying, lighting up the pathway to professional golf's financial salvation. There really might be a future for overpaid men in checked jumpers, thanks to golf's expansion policy. If only the rest of the sport was so enlightened.

Tennis has also capitalised on the middle-class boom, maybe even more so in comparative terms. That sport's foothold is because of one reason and one reason only – the Olympics. Before tennis was included at the 1988 Games in Seoul, there were one million regular players in China. Now there are 14 million. The experts say give it 20 years and 50 per cent of the golfing leader boards and tennis scoreboards will hail from Asia. The revolution has started; we wait merely for the time to take its course and its courts.

When it does, where will be the great god that is football? China will always have their lower classes and they have to be entertained. Meanwhile, billionaires will always have to feel kings and entertain those masses. That's essentially how football works and in this sense it is ideal for the developing nation. China will become a major player on the world stage and unlike the Russians or the Abu Dhabians or the Thais or the Americans, the main stage will actually be in China. A number of European leaders would confirm the Chinese aren't too fussy in outward investment, not when there's a tidy mark-up for themselves. That rules out English football, then. Who needs the Premier League, when you have the Super League? Not Dario Conca, that's for sure. Here is an Argentine who has never been capped, has never played in the Champions League and earns more than Wayne Rooney and defers only to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. In July, Xu Jialin, the billionaire owner of Guangzhou Evergrande, beckoned the cultured midfielder with a salary of £8m. Unlike the trend in the Emirates, Conca is not a trophy signing – only the anoraks outside of South America have heard of him – but, instead, a signing to win trophies.

Last Wednesday, Guangzhou secured their first Super League title with four matches to spare. Xu has declared he will now purchase more foreigners to win the Asian Champions League. "Money is no object," he said. Who they attempt to buy will be intriguing, as will be which players are tempted enough to go. Some will say yes, and thus, eventually so will more and more. The football industry is ready to exploit sport's freshest goldmine.

The Independent has learnt that Sven Goran Eriksson's people have been putting out feelers in China for a management position. Eriksson, this newspaper's very own columnist, is forever the pioneer, and can probably envisage himself on the great haul of China. So do many more of his ilk. Fabio Capello, perchance? You know, it makes sense.

Asia: pioneer players

Marcus Bent

Last week agreed a move to Indonesian side Mitra Kukar.

 

Marlon Harewood

Won promotion to the Chinese Super League with Guangzhou R&F.

 

Nicky Butt

Spell with Hong Kong's South China.

 

Robbie Fowler

Currently player/manager at Muangthong United in Thailand.

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