estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
Football and national power: a theoretical
framework applied to China and Argentina
Futebol e poder nacional: um referencial teórico
aplicado à China e Argentina
DOI: 10.5752/P.2317-773X.2018v6.n3.p26
Daniel Morales Ruvalcaba
Zhongli Zhang
Received in december 21, 2017
Accepted in april 04, 2018
Football has become a global phenomenon, but there are relatively few
studies that come from International Relations. This document explores the
contributions that football makes to the national power of States through
three hypotheses: 1) national power is aected by all types of human activities,
including sport; 2) football, as human activity, promotes national power; 3)
football is conditioned by the world system and reproduces its dynamics. To
verify these hypotheses, this paper presents a theoretical framework to analyze
the contribution of soccer to national power; later implements this theoretical
framework to study the football potentiality of the regional powers of the
semi-periphery; and, nally, identies the relations in football between two
outstanding actors: Argentina and China.
Keywords: National power, football, world-system, Argentina, China.
O futebol tornou-se um fenômeno global, mas há relativamente poucos
estudos das Relações Internacionais que abordam o problema. Este documento
explora as contribuições que o futebol faz para o poder nacional com base em
três hipóteses: 1) o poder nacional é afetado por todos os tipos de atividades
humanas, incluindo esportes; 2) o futebol, como atividade humana, promove
o poder nacional; 3) o futebol é enquadrado no sistema mundial e o reproduz.
Para verificar essas hipóteses, este artigo apresenta um quadro teórico
que analisa a contribuição do futebol para o poder nacional; em seguida,
implementa esse quadro para o estudo do potencial de futebol das potências
regionais da semiperiferia; e, nalmente, são identicadas as relações no futebol
entre dois jogadores proeminentes: Argentina e China.
Palavras chave: Poder nacional, futebol, sistema-mundial, Argentina, China.
1. Sun Yat-sen University. Researcher at
the Center for Latin American Studies
ORCID: 0000-0002-4304-3831
2. Sun Yat-sen University.Researcher at
the Center for Latin American Studies
ORCID: 0000-0002-1176-911X
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
Today, football has become a global phenomenon, largely due to the
development of telecommunications and the involvement of multinational
brands, but also thanks to the monopolistic and lucrative role played by
While it is true that a number of scholars have ventured into the so-
ciological study of football -especially since the construction of national
representations and identities (HADAS, 2000; MARSCHIK, 2001; BRAD-
LEY, 2002; KARUSH, 2003; DARBY, 2013) - there are relatively few stud-
ies that come from International Relations (EISENBERG, 2006b), that is,
from an optic considering States, international organizations and multi-
national corporations as fundamental players in this global sport. It is ar-
gued here that football is a phenomenon that merits further examination
from International Relations (IR), not only because of its growing impor-
tance in world aairs but also because it is an activity that paradoxically
fosters globalization, regionalism and nationalism simultaneously.
Under this prism of analytical possibilities, this document is framed
in the contributions that football makes to the national power of States
and, for this, the following working hypotheses are drawn here: 1) na-
tional power is a multidimensional, recursive and dynamic phenomenon
that is aected by all types of human activities, including sport; 2) foot-
ball has become a global phenomenon which promotes national power; 3)
football is conditioned by the world-system and reproduces its dynamics.
It should be noted that, because of its scope, volume and complex-
ity, football is presented today as a phenomenon that must be studied
from the IR, but also it poses theoretical and methodological challenges
to the discipline. In the current international context of the rise of na-
tionalisms and skepticism in the face of globalization, this article seeks to
re-evaluate macro approaches used by IR, which today can be very useful
for a better understanding of football as a global phenomenon.
This paper is organized in three parts: the rst presents a theoretical
approach to analyze the contribution of soccer to national power, a pro-
posal that is supported by extensive empirical information; the second part
implements this theoretical framework to study the football potentiality
of the regional powers of the semi-periphery, emphasizing two cases: Ar-
gentina, a “football world power”, and China, the main emerging power
of the last two decades and the only one that aspires decisively to reach a
major role in this sport the next years; and the third part identies the rela-
tions of exchange and cooperation between China and Argentina, which
are shown as an exceptional but with possibilities of further deepening.
Football in the national power of the States
One of the recent approaches to the national power of a state has
been proposed by Morales, Rocha and Duran, who dene it as “a prod-
uct of the multidimensional, dynamic and recursive combination of
material capacities (MC), semi-material capabilities (SMC) and immate-
rial capacities (IMC), which is expressed as a result at a given historical
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
moment of the development of States in the international political sys-
tem” (MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN, 2016, p.83). The most relevant of
his perspective on national power is that, in addition to considering it as
a three-dimensional phenomenon -which advances the two-dimension-
al type hard /soft power perspective- it is sustained on the concept of
national capacities, which are also organized in three dimensions and
based on indicators that are clearly measurable. As a result of their con-
ceptualization, the authors add that national power is thus “the relative
potential -no capacity is measured in absolute terms- and relational -no
capacity develops in isolation- that denes position (structural position),
capacity of action (what they can or cannot do), projection (possible
geoeconomic and geopolitical scopes) and attraction (diusion and geo-
cultural projection) of a country in the ensemble of States that make up
the inter-state international system” (MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN,
2016, p.84). Now, in what way is football articulated with the power of
a nation-state?
Soccer is a highly complex and multidimensional global phenom-
enon since it is not limited to the sociocultural sphere -with millions of
people practicing it and many others who use it as mechanisms for the
expression or rearmation of their identities- but it directly impacts the
economy and demands of the political action of the States (TORGLER,
2004; ALLMERS; MEANNIG, 2009; DUBAL, 2010; LEVERMORE, 2011).
However, since its origins the State has acted as a political entity engaged
in the maintenance and defense of sovereignty which has historically in-
creased secularization, exalted the notion of non-interference in internal
aairs and fed back the so-called raison d’État. Like other human activi-
ties, being permeated by the raison d’État, football becomes a mechanism
for the consolidation of the State, the promotion of national interests and
the increase of national power.
Indeed, due to the wide range of social segments and economic sec-
tors involved in soccer, it is possible to arm that this sport has repercus-
sions in each of the three categories of national capacities identied before.
The football material capacities and its contribution
to economic-military power
Material capacities are related to economic and military indicators
(MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN, 2016, p.83). In this sense, the elements
of football that would refer to the material capacities of a State would be
those related to the economic size, nancial preponderance and relative
weight that has reached a national soccer league in the world. This would
be observable through: the cost of the team, the total value of the league
and the price of the players who play in them (estimated through the
transfer value).
According to Forbes, the cost of a football team is determined
by four categories of income: “those generated on the day of the game,
broadcast, commercial and brand” (FORBES, 2016). Based on this, it was
established that the ten most valuable soccer teams in the world in 2016
were: (i) Real Madrid/Spain, US$3.65 billion, (ii) Barcelona/Spain, US$3.55
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
billion, (iii) Manchester United/England, US$3.32 billion, (iv) Bayern Mu-
nich/Germany, US$2.68, (v) Arsenal/England, US$2.02 billion, (vi) Man-
chester City/England, US$1.92 billion, (vii) Chelsea/England, US$1.66
billion, (viii) Liverpool, US$1.55 billion, (ix) Juventus/Italy, US$1.3 billion,
(x) Tottenham/England, US$1.02 billion. It should be noted here that all
the most expensive equipment is in developed countries, mainly in the
United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, France and Italy.
However, the cost of these teams contributes to raising the total val-
ue of the leagues where they participate. According to the agency Trans-
fermarkt -specialized in information from the world of football- there are
only eleven national leagues that exceed the value of 500 million euros:
(i) Premier League/England, €5.42 billion, (ii) La Liga/Spain, €3.5 billion,
(iii) Serie A/Italy, €3.13 billion, (iv) Fußball-Bundesliga/Germany, €2.71
billion, (v) Ligue 1/France, €1.82 billion, (vi) Liga NOS/Portugal, €862
million, vii) Série A/Brazil, €810 million, (viii) Süper Lig/Turkey, €786
million, (ix) Premier League/Russia, €714 million, (x) Liga MX/Mexico,
€592 million, (xi) Primera División/Argentina, €556 million.
Undoubtedly, the cost of football teams and the value of national
leagues depends, to a large extent, on their players. But how do you cal-
culate the value of a football player? Based on the study of almost 2,000
paying fee transfers, the CIES Football Observatory -a Swiss independent
center specialized in the statistical analysis of football- developed a pow-
erful approach to estimate the transfer value of professional football play-
ers. The CIES academic team consider ten indicators in three groups: rst
group, characteristics of players such; second, players’ performances; and,
third group, level of the leagues where they play (Poli, et al., 2016). Now,
something that is important to mention is that all the players with the
highest value estimated by CIES play in the most expensive European
leagues, but almost a third (32%) come from developing countries, most-
ly from South America (CIES FOOTBAL OBSERVATORY, 2017; POLI;
The football semi-material capacities and its contribution
to socio-institutional power
The strength of a state (economic-military power) does not auto-
matically translate into high standards of development and well-being
for its population. To better understand these capabilities, it is necessary
to look at a second dimension of national power. Semi-material capaci-
ties are related to the socio-institutional power of a State, that is, in the
advancement of a State through the prosperity of its population and the
development of its national institutions (MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN,
2016, p.83). In the same way that indicators were mentioned to talk about
the material capabilities of football in a country -and with it, the eco-
nomic and nancial preponderance of a soccer league- it is necessary to
point out other items that refer to the quality of this sport. In that tenor,
the elements that could refer to the semi-material capacities are: number
of teams playing in each national league, level of national leagues and
competitiveness of their teams in the world cup.
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
The rst thing to consider is the number of teams competing in
each of the leagues of the highest level -that is, rst division or its equiva-
lent- per country. This is relevant, because the number of teams in the
rst division is directly related to the amount of population of a country
and with the popularity of football in that place. In this way, it can be
noted that the countries with the rst division football leagues with as
many teams are: (i) Argentina with 28 teams; (ii) United States with 22;
(iii) countries with 20 teams are Brazil, Colombia, England, France, Italy
and Spain; and, (iv) with 18 teams are, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Japan,
Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey and Venezuela. As can
be seen, several of the national leagues listed here are also those that were
previously identied as the most valuable. But, the more teams compet-
ing, the higher the quality of the league? Not necessarily.
It is important to weigh the competitiveness of each league -and not
only its economic value according to material capabilities- since Gaspa-
retto and Barajas, following the classical theory proposed by Rottenberg
(1956), argue that “fans are more interested in balanced tournaments” or
competitive (GASPARETTO; BARAJAS, 2016, p.290). In accordance with
the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) -an or-
ganization founded on March 27
, 1984 and focused on documenting the
history and records of FIFA- the ranking of the strongest national league
in 2015 was (IFFHS, 2016a): 1) Spain, 2) Italy, 3) Germany, 4) Argentina,
5) France, 6) Brazil, 7) England, 8) Portugal, 9) Belgium, 10) Russia. With
the study of Gasparetto and Barajas it is possible to corroborate the good
competitive balance of the leagues identied by the IFFHS.
Now, what is most relevant to theorizing about the contribution of
football to national power is that the leagues mentioned here are those
that traditionally generate more interest at the global level not only in
terms of level of competition but also in the quality of clubs that par-
ticipate there. According the IFFHS, the club world ranking in 2015 was
(IFFHS, 2016b): 1
FC Barcelona/Spain, 2
Juventus FC/Italy, 3
Napoli/Italy, 4
FC Bayern München/Germany, 5
Paris Saint-Germain
FC/France, 6
Real Madrid CF/Spain, 7
Club Independiente Santa Fe/
Colombia, 8
ACF Fiorentina/Italy, 9
River Plate/Argentina, 10
Wolfsburg/Germany. Of course, most of the top clubs considered by IF-
FHS also compete in the most competitive leagues in the world: 2/3 of
the top 50 teams play in the leagues of the countries mentioned in the
previous paragraph.
The football immaterial capacities and its contribution
to communicative-cultural power
Immaterial capacities are directly related to the communicative-
cultural power (MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN, 2016, p.83). In this sense,
the elements of soccer that would reect the material capacities of a State
would be those linked to the prestige, cosmopolitanism and fame of each
national league with respect to their peers. To appreciate this, it is rel-
evant to review: brand value soccer’s team, broadcasting rights and the
number of foreigners in each league.
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
Brand Finance, founded in 1996 and headquartered in London, is
the worlds leading independent branded business valuation and strategy
consultancy. This agency considers that “football clubs are made up of a
mixture of xed tangible assets (stadium, training ground) and disclosed
intangible assets (purchased players) with brand value, internally devel-
oped players & goodwill making up the dierence to provide the com-
bined clubs value” (BRAND FINANCE GROUP, 2012, p.18). In one of its
most widespread and complete reports, published at 2012, Brand Finance
presented the brand value of 190 football clubs, in a range of US$853 mil-
lion (Manchester United FC, England) to US$3.5 (Associação Portuguesa,
Brazil). The most relevant of the Brand Finance report is that it identi-
es, on the one hand, the number of clubs per country within the “top
190” within the most valuable brands in football and, on the other hand,
the total value resulting from the sum of the most valuable brands per
country. Regarding the sum of the value of clubs per country (only of the
brands listed in the “top 190”), the following order appears: 1) Premier
League/England, 2) Fußball-Bundesliga/Germany, 3) La Liga/Spain, 4)
Serie A/Italy, and 5) Série A/Brazil. However, when looking at the num-
ber of clubs per country within the “top 190” it is revealing that: (i) Japan
has 23 clubs on that list, (ii) Brazil with 18, (iii) United States with 17, (iv)
Mexico with 13, (v) England with 12. From this, it is possible to point out
that although the teams of developed country leagues have the highest
value as brands worldwide, in developing countries the brand value is
more moderate but with a much larger number of clubs, aspect that in-
creases its future potential.
Now, a strategy of the clubs to generate proximity and achieve pen-
etration in specic national or regional markets, is to proceed to the recruit-
ment of prominent soccer players but from those places. In other words,
here is argued that the recruitment of foreign players not only responds to
a logic of the increase in the competitiveness of the sport, but is also due to
historical factors, geographical and cultural approach (POLI, 2006; TAY-
LOR, 2006). In fact, the recent patterns of soccer globalization have made
this sport “an excellent arena in which to examine migration patterns, ideas
of identity and the connections between people and place” (STOREY, 2011,
p.94) which promotes cosmopolitism (ZOLO, 2000; BECK, 2002; GIRI,
2006) and the super-diversity of societies (VERTOVEC, 2007; MEISSNER;
VERTOVEC, 2015). According to the reasons given here, national leagues
with more foreign players reach a greater competitiveness, but especially a
greater global projection. In this sense, the data provided by Transfermarkt
is again very useful, since it allows to see which are the most cosmopolitan
or super-diverse leagues in the world, with most of their players with for-
eign nationality (that is, more than 50%): 1) Premier League/England) 67%;
2) Liga NOS/Portugal 58.5%; 3) Jupiler Pro League/Belgium 58.5%; 4) First
Division/Cyprus 57.9%, 5) Serie A/Italy 53.5%, 6) Gibraltar Premier Divi-
sion/Gibraltar 53.4%, 7) BGL Ligue/Luxemburg 53.0%, 8) Süper Lig/Tur-
key 52.8%, 9) Bundesliga/Germany 52.5%, 10) MLS/United States 52.3%,
11) Ligue 1/France 50.1%.
As for the broadcasting rights, it is possible to nd some studies
that have addressed the issue (FALCONIERI; SÁKOVICS; PALOMINO,
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
2004; EVENS; LEFEVER, 2011; GORTAZAR, 2012). To a large degree,
the debate has been focused on the results obtained between the indi-
vidual management of the broadcasting rights by each team or the col-
lective bargaining of the same by the league. Apart from this discussion,
the fact is the income of the broadcasting rights in football has increased
-as has been described above- extraordinarily in recent years, not only for
FIFA but also for national leagues and clubs. It’s important to consider the
sale of broadcasting rights because, according to Christian Huveneers,
the sports market therefore brings together dierent groups of custom-
ers, and dierent avenues of income. In terms of modern economic the-
ory, the sports market is thus a multi-sided or platform market—i.e. a
market where platforms bring together dierent groups of customers”
(HUEVENNERS, 2014, p.2). It should be noted that while in developing
country leagues each club manages its broadcasting rights individually, in
developed countries the teams negotiate collectively in such a way that,
according to Forbes, these are the most important values of transmission
per season in recent years (FORBES, 2017): i) Premier League/England,
US$2.63 billion, ii) Serie A/Italy, US$1.13 billion; iii) Bundesliga/Germany,
US$790 million, iv) Ligue 1/France, US$739 million; v) La Liga/Spain, vi)
US$706 million, vii) Turkish Super League/Turkey, US$489 million; viii)
MLS/United States, US$90 million, ix) Dutch Eredivisie/Netherlands,
$87 million. In such a growing and diverse market, a good coverage and
transmission guarantees the media positioning of the clubs worldwide,
which increases its brand value, object of study of Brand Finance.
As it is very dicult to calculate the value of broadcasting costs of
developing country leagues (since each team manages its own broadcast-
ing rights), then another indicator to see the prestige of a country’s foot-
ball is through its national teams: the most renowned teams will always
be the most followed and seen in international competitions. To weight
this, can be consulted FIFA World Ranking, specically the average posi-
tion since the creation of this ranking (FIFA, 2017).
Recursion of football’s capacities around national power
Coremberg, Sanguinetti and Wierny consider that the benets of
football to society are enormous: “strengthens national identity and uni-
ty, provides the possibility of generate a good image of the country when
organizing an international event or its teams achieve good results in in-
ternational tournaments, contributes to the dissemination of values that
promote work and discipline and, nally, the practice of football can be
a strategy for the promotion of health and the improvement of the qual-
ity of life of the inhabitants” (COREMBERG; SANGUINETTI; WIERNY,
2015, p.13). As previously shored, football externalities are also linked to
national power as this is a multidimensional, recursive and dynamic phe-
nomenon that is aected by all types of human activities.
With the information compiled, it is possible to point out how
the football business is redundant in the accumulation of wealth: the
soccer clubs that generate more income have the resources to hire the
players of greater value and world-wide fame (that in many occasions
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
come from developing countries); however, the money spent to buy
the most expensive players in the world recovers widely, as these clubs
benet collectively by competing with other teams that have “super-
stars” of similar fame. This lucrative business takes place essentially in
developed countries, allowing the governments of these countries to
attract global resources that, in addition to beneting companies linked
to football, ends up providing extraordinary resources to the States,
beneting their material capacities.
In addition, it is observed that the quality of football is directly
linked to the semi-material capacities of the countries since, on the one
hand, for a competitive league to be possible, a more or less numerous
population is needed (with medium levels of social welfare and ecient
institutions that guarantee and promote the performance of public ac-
tivities, such as sport); but on the other hand, once a certain quality is
achieved in soccer leagues, these generate economic resources that end
up beneting players, clubs, entrepreneurs, industries linked to football
and, in short, the national society as a whole. All this, nally, overows
populations, benets the semi-material capacities and increases the socio-
institutional power of States.
By last, football clubs with foreign players of the highest level not
only increase their aptitude to sell shirts all over the world and to ll
stadiums where they present their “superstars”, but also translate into
income from advertising and marketing product sales derived from inter-
est for sponsors looking for very specic national or regional markets. All
above turns out as an increase in fame and prestige for national leagues
and, nally, the communicative-cultural power of the States.
No sport like football had transcended to be not only a healthy and
playful human activity, but also a spectacle, business and passion with
such diusion and magnitude. In that sense, football has become a global
phenomenon that represents multi-million-dollar deals, world fame, in-
ternational inuence, prestige, etc., all of which certainly contributes to
national power.
The heterogeneity of football in the semi-periphery countries
Football business has gone against the current in the nancial cri-
sis in 2008. At that moment, many countries were stuck in the economic
recession, but the income of FIFA showed an exponential growth, av-
eragely 15% from 2006 to 2015 (FIFA, 2016). Yet, same as other indus-
tries, football cant make itself escape from the logic and the structure
of the contemporary capitalist world system, which in fact is based on
two major dynamics: the rst one corresponds with the unequal distribu-
tion of gains between dierent areas: core, semi-periphery and periphery
(WALLERSTEIN, 1974; TAYLOR; FLINT, 2002, p.20-22); the second one
is about the slow positioning of Asia as a new world economic center of
century (ASENIERO, 1996; BEESON, 2009; WALLERSTEIN, 2010).
What interest here, is to emphasize the heterogeneity of the semi-periph-
ery, but in the eld of football. Before, a brief indication about the center
and the periphery.
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
The central countries are those that stand out not necessarily for
possessing the highest material capacities, but for concentrating the
higher semi-material capacities -constables in the high levels of well-be-
ing- and holding signicant immaterial capacities for their ideological-
cultural projection in the system. This is due, among other reasons, to
the fact that their economies are exporters of goods with high added
value and are immersed in the so-called third industrial revolution, are
headquarter to very important nancial centers and stock exchanges,
have many transnational corporations and have signicant control over
global value chains, their international reserves are large, their power-
ful armies, their inuential media and their preponderant geocultures.
In terms of football, they are the owners of the football league matches
which are the richest and the most powerful. In fact, from the theoriza-
tion and the indicators presented in the previous section, it is possible
to verify that the central States are the main circuits of football in what
accumulation of wealth, competitiveness and prestige refers, primarily
England, Germany, Spain, France and Italy; and, to a lesser extent, the
Netherlands, Portugal and Belgium. All of these are extremely powerful
in the eld of football, whose power results from the simultaneous com-
bination of both material capacities (here are the most expensive teams in
the world, their national leagues are the most valuable and have football
players best quoted), as semi-material capacities (their tournaments have
a large number of teams, their national leagues are considered the most
competitive in the world and the teams that play there are considered the
strongest) and immaterial capacities (they have the most valuable soccer
brands, a very high percentage of their players come from overseas and
their broadcasting rights have reached the highest values and the most
broadcasting). It should be clear that not all core states are powers in
terms of football -consider with the great exception of the United States
(MARKOVITS, 1990) - however, it is clear that the main dynamics of foot-
ball occur in the core states and, with their mechanics, the centrality of
these countries in the world-economy. As anticipated, the concentration
of wealth, competitiveness and prestige in the domain of football occurs
in the core states.
At the opposite end is the periphery. The genealogy of the periph-
eral states goes back to the processes of colonization and exploitation
intrinsic to the expansion of capitalism from its origins to the present
day. In fact, it was especially between the sixteenth and nineteenth centu-
ries that colonial states violently introduced the peoples of the periphery
into the capitalist world-economy and -through exploitation- dismantled
many of their development potential, all of which has caused that the
peripheral nations failed to dene their own model of development and
simply try to imitate the steps followed by the central States for their
industrialization. Thus, peripheral economies have been distinguished
by their specialization in economic sectors producing raw materials with
low added value, due to their incipient industrial sector and low techno-
logical level, due to their fragile and cyclical growth, and to present seri-
ous external debt problems. Its dependent insertion in the world econo-
my has been the cause and eect of the conditions of unrest that predomi-
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
nate in the periphery, that is, of societies where wages are precarious,
little is invested in social programs, high levels of corruption persist and
violence, social inequality is high and there is escape from those human
talents that come to prosper. In general, the lack of socio-institutional
power becomes a brake on the development of economic-military and
communicative-cultural power. All this reduces presence to the periph-
eral countries in the world and makes them in States particularly vulner-
able to the pressures of the core and semi-peripheral powers. However,
within this large and numerous area, there are some that stand out for
their relative advancement and proximity to the semi-periphery, these
are the subregional powers (MORALES; ROCHA; DURÁN, 2016; TZILI,
2017; IÑIGUEZ-TORRES, 2017). In terms of football, the peripheral coun-
tries that highlight in this sport are, in the following order, Liga Aguila/
Colombia, UPL/Ukraine, Persian Gulf Pro League/Iran, Egyptian Pre-
mier League/Egypt and Uzbek Oliy League/Uzbekistan. They stand out
because of the relatively large number of teams competing in their rst
division leagues, the high international competitive level of certain lo-
cal teams, the inclusion of some of their teams (only a few) in the “top
190” football brands and the value of some its native players have reached
in the transfer market. Certainly, the periphery remains sidelines of the
world-economy and contributes specially with human resources that are
appropriated by the core and the semi-periphery (POLI, 2006; DARBY,
2007; POLI; RAVENEL; BESSON, 2015).
However, the semi-periphery is not simply a residual category that
covers the dichotomous gap existing between the notions of center and
periphery but refers to a specic number of states (just under thirty) with
their own characteristics. Among these, it is possible to mention that
these States occupy an intermediate structural and functional position;
maintain geographic contiguity with both central and peripheral states;
which were colonized by central states, but maintained relatively greater
margins of autonomy than those on the periphery; their economies are in
the process of industrialization; their administrative apparatus are in the
process of modernization; their societies show high socio-economic in-
equality and their internal regions exhibit a great disparity in their levels
of development; they project attractive and inuential geocultures but are
far from dominant; they are at the same time expelling migrants, transit
territories and recipients of immigrants, displaced persons, refugees, ex-
iles and who have left their homes due to violence or need; contain deeply
discordant and volatile social dynamics; and, they are relevant -although
not directors- in international governance.
It should be noted that the intermediate position of the semi-periph-
ery in the world system is both economic, social and cultural: in econom-
ic terms the semi-periphery maintains stronger ties with the center, since
it depends relatively on its markets, companies and foreign exchange;
however, in general terms, the semi-periphery retains a level of socio-
cultural approach closer to the periphery due to its geographic contiguity
and historical interpenetration. In this sense, the semi-periphery is highly
important because it possesses the most signicant transforming poten-
tial for the system, since it is the locus of great discordant social forces
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
and where transcendent political movements emerge (WALLERSTEIN,
2003; CHASE-DUNN, 1990; TERLOUW, 2003). The most prominent
states in the semi-periphery are the so-called regional powers (NOLTE,
2013) and these are: China, Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, México, India,
Turkey, Poland, Argentina and South Africa.
In general terms, all these countries stand out for their enormous
potential for football because:
• Material capacities and its contribution to economic-military
power: certainly, none of the teams in these countries are in the
Forbes “top 20” list of most valuable football clubs, but in the ma-
jority of them there are clubs that exceed the cost of €50 million;
with the sole exception of India, the value of their rst division
leagues exceeds €100 million; several of these countries are not
only the birthplace of great “football stars” with very high values
in the transfer market, but also are exporters of players for the
rest of the world.
• Semi-material capacities and its contribution to socio-institutio-
nal power: with the only exceptions of Saudi Arabia and India,
the rst division leagues of these countries are robust because
they compete in at least 16 teams, which contributes to receiving
players from the periphery and serving, in some cases, as shop
window for teams from core states; with the exceptions of China,
South Africa and India, the competitiveness of the national lea-
gues in these countries is relatively high because they are among
the strongest 30; and, again with the exceptions of South Africa
and India, all these countries have at least one soccer team that is
among the strongest 100.
• Immaterial capacities and its contribution to communicative-
-cultural power: with the exception of India, all countries have
at least one football club that is in the “top 190” of the most va-
luable brands in this eld; although it is dicult to estimate the
total value of the broadcasting rights of their leagues, the national
teams of these countries expectation around the world and are
often rivals to win in regional competitions; and, in contrast to
the competitions of the core states, the rst division leagues in
regional powers are less cosmopolitan and more nationalistic, to
foster the generation of national talent.
Despite the relative strength of these countries in the eld of foot-
ball, it is also necessary to emphasize the heterogeneity that exists among
them. As can be seen in the Table 1. The thrustfulness of football in regional
powers, there is a great disparity not only of the strength, quality and pres-
tige in the football of these countries but the contribution that this sport
makes to their national power is also very unequal: at the top of the table,
are Brazil and Argentina, countries with a huge football tradition, that
have achieved great feats and have contributed -and still do- with great
athletes in this sport, in synthesis “football world powers” but always
with the constraints of its semi-peripheral nature; in the second quartile
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
of the table, Turkey, Russia, Mexico and Poland, countries that although
they have not reached the prowess of the previous ones (a huge dier-
ence, is that they have never been world champions), enjoy a football
tradition also important and they have an imposing regional presence
in terms of football; in the third quartile, Saudi Arabia and China, two
emerging powers of the late twentieth century, with a short tradition in
modern football, but who have great aspirations in this sport and are bet-
ting very strongly on it; and at the bottom of the table, South Africa and
India, regional powers that for historical, cultural and even structural
reasons, still do not stand out in this sport.
TABLE 1 – The thrustfulness of football in regional powers
“Top 11”
in national
Brazil 8 9 9 8 9 10 10 1 10 74
Argentina 7 6 10 10 10 9 7 2 9 70
Turkey 10 10 7 7 7 7 4 10 6 68
Russia 9 8 5 6 8 8 6 8 7 65
Mexico 6 7 6 7 6 6 9 9 8 64
Poland 3 4 8 6 4 4 2 7 5 43
China 5 5 2 6 3 3 8 4 2 38
Saudi Arabia 4 3 3 5 5 5 5 5 3 38
South Africa 2 2 4 6 2 2 3 3 4 28
India 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 6 1 16
Own elaboration table.
a. The Forbes’ list was expanded with the Transfermarkt GmbH & Co data (2017). For this item, only
football teams worth more than 50 million euros have been counted.
b. Transfermarkt GmbH & Co data (2017).
c. The information generated by CIES Football Observatory has been complemented with Transfermarkt
GmbH & Co data (2017). For the calculation of this item, has been considered the value of the “top 11
of the most expensive soccer players in each country, regardless of the league where they compete.
d. From the amount of equipment existing in the first division leagues of the world, the following values
were assigned: 28 teams=10 points, 22 teams=9 points, 20 teams=8 points, 18 teams=7 points, 16
teams=6 points, 14 teams=5 points, 12 teams=4 points, 10 teams=3 points, 9 teams=2 points, 8 teams
or less= 1 point.
e. IFFHS reports (2016a; 2016b; 2017). The score was assigned decreasingly (staring from 10) according
to the ranking of the league or the positioning of their teams.
f. From 10 to 1, decreasing values were assigned according to the number of teams per country included
in the “top 190” brand values (BRAND FINANCE GROUP, 2012).
g. From 10 to 1, were assigned decreasing values according to the FIFA World Ranking, specifically the
average position since the creation of this ranking (FIFA, 2017).
Of all the previous countries and among its possible links, the Sino-
Argentine relationship is the one that is shown as the most exceptional.
What is this about? As already noted, China is the only emerging power
that has made explicit its ambitious aspirations in football (BARDON;
BLACK, 2008; TIEN-CHIN; BAINER, 2010; CORNNELL, 2017) and, the
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
countries that have contributed most with players, coaches and technical
sta to the development of Chinese football
have been Brazil and Ar-
gentina: certainly these two countries are the largest exporter of players
around the world, however, by tradition and vocation, Brazilians have
been more focused on Europe - almost 2/3 of them are concentrated in
European leagues- while the geographic dispersion in the Argentine play-
ers is higher, as 55% are in Latin America, 36% in Europe and the rest in
other regions. In other words, Argentine football seems more willing to
explore new frontiers. In addition, as will be shown in the following lines,
the interest of Argentineans in Chinese football is not reduced at the play-
ers level, but also covers the business and transcends the political.
Argentina: a semi-peripheral state but “football world power”
Argentina is a nation-state that throughout its history has had many
ups and downs in its international position because, during almost two
centuries (XVIII and XIX), it experienced moments of immense prosper-
ity and growth -in which it arrived at to be the “worlds breadbasket”, the
ninth world economic power and leader in the Latin American system-
but then, in the twentieth century, experienced acute moments of reces-
sion, crisis and regression (1930, 1983, 2001).
Precisely, a watershed in the contemporary history of Argentina is
in the crisis of the end of 2001 and its repercussions in the following year.
Vadell argues that “between 1998 and 2002, extreme poverty increased by
223% in Argentina. A unique data in such a small space of time. In 2001,
the share of workers in GDP fell to the lowest level in Argentine history”
(VADELL, 2006, p.202). By the end of 2002, the demands of Argentine so-
ciety were becoming deeper. This complicated sociopolitical environment
would lead to the presidential elections to advance almost six months from
the scheduled date, and then to the unexpected election of Nestor Kirch-
ner (2003-2007), who would inaugurate a left-progressive political cycle (the
Kirchnerism) that would last for more than a decade with the governments
of his wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kircher (2007-2015).
The political changes of the beginnings of the 21st century in Argen-
tina also had an impact on the management of its local football (BECER-
RA, 2015). The former left-wing President Cristina Fernandez put into
operation during 2009 the program Futbol Para Todos (FPT), which began
to broadcast the Primera División games for free, with a state subsidy of
600 million Argentine pesos (ARP)
per year (MIGUEZ, 2009); but, in the
opposite direction, his successor Mauricio Macri annulled the state pro-
gram FPT in its eighth year of operation and sold the broadcasting rights
for the next 10 years to U.S. media companies Twenty-First Century Fox
and Time Warner for a value of little more than US$200 million per year
(REUTERS STAFF, 2017), a greater amount than the Argentinean clubs
received with FPT and presumably will come to revitalize the soccer
business in this country for the next few years.
Despite the economic diculties and political changes experienced
by Argentina in recent decades, this has not prevented it from shining
globally in terms of football for: having two of the most expensive teams
3. In addition to Brazil and Argentina,
the Chinese Super League, only has
record of the participation of five players
from Poland, three from Turkey and one
from South Africa. There have never
been players from Russia, Mexico,
Saudi Arabia and India.
4. Equivalent, at that time, to
US$ 155 million.
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
on the American continent (River Plate and Boca Juniors) with a value
exceeding € 50 million; being the third most valuable league of western
hemisphere (after Brazil and Mexico); being the place of birth of some
of the players more costs of the world (today the most outstanding are
Messi, Higuain, Aguero, Dybala and Icardi); being the country where
more teams compete in a rst division tournament (28 teams); because of
the high competitiveness of its league, since in 2015 was considered the
4th strongest in the world (only after Spain, Italy and Germany); having
some of the strongest clubs in the world such as River Plate, Boca Juniors,
Racing Club, Students and San Lorenzo; having seven teams with a high
brand value that places them among the “top 190” Brand Finance; be-
ing the fth best national selection in all history, according to the FIFA
ranking; and being the second exporter of soccer players (after Brazil),
having contributed to the world “superstars” like Di Stefano, Kempes,
Maradona, Batistuta and, at present, Messi. All this projects Argentina as
an authentic “football world power”, as evidenced by Table 1. But what is
its specic contribution to the national power of Argentina?
In a pioneering study, both by their methodology and by their nd-
ings, Coremberg, Sanguinetti and Wierny calculated the contribution of
professional and amateur football to Argentinas economy through direct
eects (clubs and associated sectors) and indirect (suppliers, links with the
national economy, etc.) of this sport. According to their estimates, Argen-
tine football generated ARP$41,775 million in 2013, of which ARP$8,860
million correspond to the gross value created by the clubs and ARP$
32,915 million to the sectors that produce thanks to soccer. In the words
of the authors, “this means that for each peso spent by clubs, an addition-
al 3.7 pesos is generated in other sectors of the economy, more than cal-
culated for the sport in the United Kingdom” (COREMBERG; SANGUI-
NETTI; WIERNY, 2015, p.54). However, the most remarkable of this re-
search is that it discovers the great potential of Argentine soccer because
it “is competitive both football and economically (for its low costs) at an
international level” (COREMBERG; SANGUINETTI; WIERNY, 2015,
p.42), especially if it is taken into account that Argentine football clubs are
mostly nanced - almost 50%- by their fans and not by the broadcasting
rights, marketing and sponsorships as in Europe or Brazil.
This gives rise to enormous possibilities of understanding and col-
laboration between Argentina and China, which is potentially benecial
to both parties.
China, the new footballs “emerging power”
According to Horne, although the ocial FIFA emblem “of two
footballs imprinted with the map of the world depicts the Far East close
to the center where the two balls intersect, there can be no doubt that
Asia is peripheral in terms of football power” (HORNE, 2004, p.1235).
However, in the last decade, this has begun to change substantially.
Same as the FIFAs report, the TV revenue from Asia and North
Africa rose from USD$86 million in 2007 to USD$218.2 million in 2014,
which represents a huge increase of the number of the fans in this certain
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
region, which is undoubtedly the most dynamic region in the world. In
this context, China stands. In the past few decades, China has devoted to
surpass its situation of semi-peripheral country and has prepared itself to
play a role as regional power. (EICHENGREEN, 2006; ARRIGHI, 2007).
China is urged to improve itself from many dierent aspects, one of
which is consolidate its inuence, prestige and presence in globalization.
Football happens to be a vital component of this because, in fact, China
is an emerging country in this eld and has much to grow (Table 1. The
thrustfulness of football in regional powers). As Pulleiro pointed out, sports
competition “supposes a sample of status and the acquired development
in the existence of concrete power relations” (PULLEIRO, 2014, p.10).
According to the statistics of the IFFHS, the Chinese Super League
(CSL) is considered to occupy the forth place among the football leagues
in Asia, running after professional leagues of Korea, Saudi Arabia and Ja-
pan. However, the enhancement of competitiveness in recent years ben-
ets from the sponsor of companies and the national project of building
a football center. Besides, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping,
revitalizing the Chinese football has been put on the agenda as a signi-
cant mission to create a sports world power. This goal will be achieved
by getting into the FIFA World Cup (the one in 2002 was the only one in
which the Chinese football team participated), host a FIFA World Cup in
the year 2030 or 2034 and winning the World Cup before 2050.
It has been demonstrated that the promotion of sport does not
necessarily translate into an increase in national capacities, even some
academics have come to seriously debate the benets of sporting mega-
events for host countries (WHITSON; HORNE, 2006; BARCLAY, 2009;
LI; MCCABE, 2013). However, China is shown as a paradigmatic case,
completely opposite. According to Carlos Pulleiro, China has been able to
use sport in each of the variants: “organizing the 2008 Summer Olympics
to make visible its economic strength and ascendancy in the international
power hierarchy, using ping-pong as a diplomatic element to establish
contact with the United States or conditioning Taiwans Olympic status
on its return to Olympic Movement in the late seventies” (PULLEIRO,
2016, p.55). If a country has beneted politically from sport during the
Cold War, it has been precisely China.
To achieve its goals in football, China needs to take three steps:
rst, expand the construction of the football eld, including building
more modern stadiums and increase the number of the football eld all
over the country. Second, pay more attention to the personnel training
system, in other words, enhance the level of the Chinese local coaches and
trainers. Third, Popularize the football, which CSL has begun to spend
big-money in introducing famous European and South American football
players to get the attention of Chinese fans and others worldwide.
Chinese Football Association was established in January 3, 1955, with
only 62 years of history. The Argentine Football Association has set up for
124 years of and is the rst of its kind in setting up in South America Foot-
ball Association as well as one of the worlds rst eight Football Associa-
tion. China is a sports power country, but not in football. In contrast, Ar-
gentina possesses richer experience. A few years after the 2014 FIFA World
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
Cup, Argentina has been occupied the worlds rst position. China must
use the power of predecessors to develop Chinese football. This year coin-
cided with the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations
between China and Argentina, China and Argentina will carry out more
in-depth cooperation in various elds, especially in the eld of football.
The level of the national football is determined by the football en-
vironment and the material conditions. China, with a complicated situ-
ation, is now facing countless diculties in the development of football,
which is restricted by the economic, the political and the cultural condi-
tions. The CSL was established almost half a century later or more than
the stronger leagues. The time was a little late. Besides, it has a slowing
development because it lacks experience and it must face the impact of
a political reform. China lagged other nations in the football develop-
ment although China had done a lot since the establishment of the P.R.C.
Not until the 1990s, did China begin to have its own professional league.
Since 2001, the Chinese football became mired in corruption. The execu-
tives of the Association and the management of the club were involved
in this scandal. Behaviors against the sports spirit like the match-xing,
the cheating calls and going on strike resulted in the devitalization of the
Chinese football development. With a series of disclosed circumstances,
the phenomenon of the football gambling gradually surfaced, involving
the executives of the Association, the club management, the referee and
the players. After the investigation and the punishment, in recent years,
these bad behaviors have reduced a lot. On October 7, 2001, at the Wulihe
Stadium in Shenyang, the Chinese national football team, under the lead-
ership of Mi Lu, defeated Oman and historically stepped into the World
Cup Finals. During that time, the football movement is gaining steam,
with all the national team jersey sold out instantly. Primary and second-
ary schools also engaged specialty football training classes, showing that
football had turned into the most popular sport. Although in that ses-
sion, China was out without winning a game in the group, it had a huge
positive eect on the domestic football environment. In recent years, the
Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao Football Club won the AFC Asian Cup
twice, making football heated again throughout the country. The future
development of the Chinese football is worth looking forward to.
At the G-20 Hangzhou Summit in 2016, President Xi unexpectedly
sent a request to the President Macri, hoping that China would have its
own Messi or Maradona in 20 years, which would need the response of
Argentina. Macri immediately responded that he was very glad to help.
Then they also discussed on the issues like Argentine football coach
teaching in China, Chinese players going to the Argentine club, etc.
Sino-argentine football relations
The football diplomacy proposed by President Xi has also become
part of China’s foreign policy. As the ping-pong diplomacy opened the
door to Sino-American exchanges, football diplomacy aspires to narrow
the distance between the Chinese people and the people of the world.
Football diplomacy highlights China’s open and inclusive diplomatic at-
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
titude towards integrating into the world, reects China’s tentative “ball
diplomatic means to show China’s humble and proactive big country style
as well as Chinas reform goals of comprehensive development and our-
ishing. President Xi also put forward “Chinese Dream”, the important
guideline and ruling concept, with which the dream of sports power is
also closely linked. Therefore, considering Chinas weak football perfor-
mance, it is regarded as imperative to promote the reform of the football
system. On February 27, 2015, the Central Leading Group for Compre-
hensive Deepening Reforms passed an overall program of Chinas foot-
ball reform. The situation of Chinese football is changing.
On July 18, 2014, President Xi arrived in Buenos Aires for a state
visit to Argentina and received No. 10 jersey of Argentine national team.
After the Mayor Macri nished the gift-giving, Xi also humorously asked:
how much is the transfer fee?” During his visit to Argentina, President
Xi repeatedly mentioned in his speech that he was eager to host the World
Cup in China, hoping that Argentina would help Chinese football, caus-
ing great repercussions in the local football community.
With the increasingly close relations between China and Argentina,
the Argentine clubs have gradually entered China, injecting vitality into the
Chinese football development. At the same time, the Chinese companies
also became sponsors of many well-known football clubs in Argentina. For
example, Huawei has sponsored two famous clubs: the CA Boca Juniors
and the River Plate. Many Argentine football clubs also carried out deeper
cooperation in other elds in China. Chinese football should seize this op-
portunity to learn more about foreign advanced concepts and experiences.
The CSL has also introduced several Argentine football players,
hoping that their power will help arouse the passion of the team. For
example, in these two years, the Hebei China Fortune FC has introduced
the Argentine international Ezequiel Ivan Lavezzi and the Shanghai
Greenland Shenhua Football Club spent big-money in hiring Argentine
players like Carlos Tevez. It will be easier to understand the big-money
by counting that Tevez can earn US$ 80 per minute. In addition to the
transfer of the players, to get access to the Chinese market, Argentina
and Brazil held the Supercopa Sudamericana in the Birds Nest in Beijing,
giving Chinese fans an opportunity to watch the competitions of famous
football players like Messi, Neymar and Kaka at close range.
This year is the 65
anniversary of the establishment of diplomat-
ic ties between China and Argentina. The two countries will certainly
consolidate and deepen bilateral cooperative relations, especially the co-
operation in football. With the national determination to promote the
football, both countries will seek for a mutually benecial cooperation in
various elds and attain sustainable development.
In previous lines, the challenges faced by China were analyzed,
the most extraordinary emerging power since the end of the 20th cen-
tury and the beginning of the 21st century, in its eorts to consolidate
its national power using, as one more tool, football. The methodological
Ruvalcaba, Daniel Morales; Zhang, Zhongli Football and naonal power: a theorecal framework applied to...
strategy was, rst, address a series of theoretical considerations to size
the contribution of football to national power of a State; second, observe
the potentiality of regional powers in this sport, but also their heteroge-
neity, specically concerning Argentina -that represents a paradigmatic
case that while maintaining itself as a semi-peripheral state, is at the same
time a “football world power”- and China, an emerging power which un-
derstands soccer as a tool in the consolidation of its national power; third,
a review of Sino-Argentine relations in this sporting matter.
The reasons that cause the dierences between China and Argen-
tina could be summarized as the following:
• Football system: The construction of the football system in China
is a problem that needs more attention. Although several reforms
have been conducted, the eect is not satisfactory. Additionally,
along with the commercialization of football, the corruption began
to appear again. What’s worse, many club managers in the Chinese
Football Association do not understand the football career resul-
ting in a phenomenon that basically the professional subordinate
stas are under the charge of the unprofessional outsiders.
In Argentina, football can be seen everywhere. Greeting people by
discussing the football is as normal as greeting with the question
“Have you had your meal?” in China. According to the statistics,
the penetration of football in Argentina is as high as 98% among
the male from 3 to 70 years old. And 9 people out of 10 are club fans.
• Number of football population: the number of real Chinese foot-
ball fans is not large, although in recent years the number has ex-
ploded. Some of them fall in love with football because of the World
Cup while some fans get started because of the handsome football
players. And some pay attention to football hearing of the report of
the Chinese team’s victory. The growth of fans population doesn’t
seem healthy, but it still has a positive eect to some extent.
• Construction of the football infrastructure: Given that this den-
sely populated country spans relatively little land, although the
government keeps impelling the construction of athletic facili-
ties, the demand of football eld cannot be satised. Due to the
high costs of the construction and the maintenance, some foot-
ball eld began to have an admission charge. Now it needs nearly
200 yuan for a cheap football game, too expensive for students
with no income to play football, which indeed hinders the further
development of the football career in China.
The situation is much better in Argentina. The Argentine football
population is large, and people have begun to watch football games since
they were young. The football infrastructure is adequate. There are 17
standard football elds in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.
Considering this, it is easy to nd out the huge possibility of the
further communication between Argentina and China: the rst has a
strong football power which can be used smartly as a part of its public
diplomatic means; the second needs the talents and experiences of coun-
estudos internacionais • Belo Horizonte, ISSN 2317-773X, v.6 n.3 (2018), p.26 - 46
tries with a football tradition willing to support in the achievement of its
national goals. In this aspect, Argentina and China are never competitors
against each other.
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