Hebei FC fans urged authorities to step in and save the club Tuesday after Javier Mascherano’s former side threatened to become the latest Chinese football team to go bust.
Jiangsu FC folded in February, barely 100 days after winning the Chinese Super League, and now top-tier Hebei appear to be in grave danger of going the same way — more evidence that China’s football boom under President Xi Jinping is over.
Doubts about the future of Hebei FC, who previously spent big on Argentine stars Mascherano and Ezequiel Lavezzi, have swirled for months.
Then last week the club said that it was unable to pay the electricity bills at its training ground and would suspend training for four youth teams because of financial troubles, telling players to “take holiday”.
It remains unclear whether Hebei, who are owned by property developer China Fortune Land Development, will play again when the CSL resumes next month.
Hebei would be among more than 20 professional Chinese football teams to close down in the last two years.
The club’s fans expressed dismay and anger, with a related hashtag on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform racking up millions of views by midday Tuesday.
An official supporters’ account urged authorities to intervene, saying “this kind of team — much loved and respected — is worth a little more attention” from the provincial sports bureau and Chinese Football Association.
Clubs have seen a spate of frantic investment dry up following years of spending that brought some of football’s biggest names to China.
“Once this is over, it’s worth pondering whether those investors have really done anything for Chinese football, or just used it as a tool to make profits,” said one Weibo user.
Xi says he wants China to become a leading football power and one day win a World Cup. But the men’s national team have only reached the World Cup once, in 2002, and are 75th in the FIFA rankings.