The pipeline for Africa’s top soccer talent may lead through Europe, but the end point is now China. Chelsea star Didier Drogba, an Ivory Coast native, led the British squad to a Champions League victory this spring. This summer, he is moving east to play for the Shanghai Shenhua, where he will reportedly earn $350,000 a week.
Fellow Africans are also packing bags for China. Seydou Keita is leaving FC Barcelona, perhaps the world’s best club, for China’s fledgling Super League. He’ll join fellow Malian Frédéric Kanouté, 2007’s African Footballer of the Year, who recently signed with Beijing. “I suspect one last payday is the prime motivator,” says James Porteous of the South China Morning Post. Nigerian striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni is leaving England’s top league for an estimated $150,000 a week with Guangzhou.
Owners are betting the African stars can put Chinese soccer on the map. Xu Jiayin, China’s fifth-richest man, recently put up US$70 million for his team. Still, the question is whether money alone will be enough.