The past few years have not been easy for Dutch soccer club ADO. The struggling club, that is over 110 years old, announced a takeover by Chinese company United Vansen (合力万盛), owned by Hui Wang (王辉), in the summer of 2014. Although the club was initially hopeful about United Vansen’s promised investments in the club, it soon turned out that payments failed to appear.
At the start of 2015, the club finally did receive money from United Vansen – but the affair had received a lot of media attention and relations between ADO and the Chinese owner were already going sour, especially when payments were again delayed later in 2015.
Although Wang allegedly said the delayed payments were caused by “cultural misunderstandings”, the problems were still not solved in 2016. The Dutch court has now ruled on January 5th that Hui Wang has to pay ADO nearly 2.5 million euros ($2.6 million) as part of his 2015 takeover.
Wang was not present in court on Thursday, nor did he or his lawyers attend the hearing that took place a week earlier.
Although the ‘Sino-Dutch soccer war’ is making headlines in Dutch media and international newspapers, it is receiving little media attention in China. In the Netherlands, many people are puzzled about Wang’s moves and his motivations: what went wrong?
THE CHINESE SOCCER DREAM
“Of course we are borrowing the chicken for its eggs.”
China has great ambitions when it comes to soccer. The Chinese soccer dream is such a priority that the National Development and Reform Commission, Chinese Football Association, and the Sports Bureau and Ministry of Education have set out a visionary plan to produce one of the world’s strongest soccer teams by 2050.
China has the soccer ambition, the soccer fans, and the money – but still lags behind when it comes to successful clubs and players. To become a bigger player in the world of football, Chinese president Xi Jinping made soccer a national priority in 2015; not coincidentally the same year that Hui Wang officially took over ADO Den Haag.
In a 2016 interview with Chinese newspaper Da Gongbao, Hui Wang was clear that his priorities were on the development of Chinese soccer, and not necessarily on saving Dutch ADO: “Of course we are borrowing the chicken for its eggs,” he said: “We are borrowing the European soccer environment to cultivate some cream of the crop players.”
Learning from international clubs and players is seen as an important way for China to become a more relevant football nation. On social media platform Sina Weibo, Chinese sports journalist Shi Qingsheng posted a picture of Hui Wang (l) in Holland, stating: “By Hui Wang going to The Hague (..) we can better serve Chinese football and Chinese soccer fans. We all know that China’s soccer is still in the lower levels.”
On Weibo, some netizens are clear about the fact that Wang’s plans to take over ADO had to do with his ambitions to bring Chinese players to Europe. When that did not happen, the investments stayed away.
AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY
“In the Dutch media, this ‘China nightmare’ was blamed on Wang.”
Dutch club ADO had different dreams for the club’s future than Wang had. According to Voetbal International, one of Wang’s dreams was to bring a Chinese player to ADO and have him featured in a real-life soap on his Dutch soccer adventure.
But ADO was not willing to take the player in, since his level was far beneath that of the general soccer players at the club. It made Wang suffer a loss of face – he had to cancel all plans for the upcoming Chinese TV program.
One of Wang’s alleged bigger plans was to turn ADO into a breeding ground for Chinese players, after which they could be sold with profits. But these dreams were also thwarted by the Dutch council of ADO, that did not want to turn ADO into a Chinese “trading house.”
Another issue that caused friction was the quality of Dutch trainers sent to China. One of the many ways in which Wang hoped to use ADO for the advancement of China’s soccer dream was that ADO trainers would travel to China to train young Chinese players. But according to experts in 2015, the trainers that were sent there were practically ‘unemployed’ and relatively unknown – not what United Vansen had hoped for.
One of the ADO trainers who did travel to China, the 28-year-old Feenstra, said he “went through hell” there as he turned out to be on the wrong visa and was taken into custody. In the Dutch media, this “China nightmare” was blamed on Wang. Two other ADO trainers returned to the Netherlands within three weeks after their arrival because they found the working conditions in China too straining.
All of these reports on late payments and “China nightmares” made headlines in the Dutch media. United Vansen shared its unhappiness about the status quo on its official Weibo page in late 2015, when they released an offical statement refuting any “fake news” about Hui Wang’s delayed payments to Dutch soccer club ADO.
TWO CHICKENS, NO EGGS
“Why do they turn me into their opponent after I have invested my money into them?”
ADO’s critical approach towards Wang, the fact that they shared their dirty laundry with the Dutch press, and their unwillingness to adhere to their owner’s wishes, eventually hurt their relations beyond repair.
“Why do they turn me into their opponent after I have invested my money into them?”, Wang told RTL News in 2016.
All in all, it seems like the roots of this Sino-Dutch ‘soccer war’ can be found in the fact that the two parties, both on the Dutch and the Chinese side, were more concerned about their own goals than about those of the other.
The Dutch ADO, for 98% owned by a Chinese party, was not willing to let Chinese influences into their club – in that way ADO was also “using the chicken for its eggs.” Wang was working on his Chinese soccer dream, and not on ADO’s future.
In the end nor ADO nor Wang found the golden eggs they were hoping for. United Vansen can still appeal the Dutch court’s verdict in the days to come. It is not yet clear if they will do so.
On Weibo, the few Chinese netizens who talk about the soccer conflict seem divided. Some scold ADO for their actions, while others blame Wang for “ruining” the Dutch club.
The Chinese newspaper who covered the issue only did so briefly. As big as the ADO-Wang affair might have become in the Netherlands, for many Chinese, it is simply nothing more than a business deal gone wrong.
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