Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C.
In 1954 Guangzhou Evergrande emerged as one of China’s first semi-professional football clubs, playing in front of a few number of supporters against clubs in the local province.
Little would those watching one of the side’s first ever matches realise that nearly 50 years later they would be taken over by a multi-billion dollar company, ascending to the pinnacle of Chinese football.
Even when Guangzhou turned professional in 1993, results did not improve on the pitch, and the club went through a period of stagnation before match-fixing shrouded the team in 2009.
Punished with relegation, it looked bleak for a side who needed significant financial aid after a majority of sponsors decided to abandon Guangzhou because of their well publicised match-fixing scandal.
What occurred will go down in history as the club’s darkest hour, after police discovered that the then Guangzhou manager Yang Xu paid ¥200,000 to the manager of Shanxi Luhu, Wang Po, to guarantee that Guangzhou would win the match.
After numerous investigations, the corruption had become so endemic that it had reached board level, so it was no surprise to see the club put up for sale.
So in 2010, an opportunity emerged for Evergrande Real Estate Group. They realised that with their investment they had the money and power to change the fortunes of Guangzhou, deciding to purchase the club, pumping significant funds into the team in the process.
Chinese national captain Zheng Zhi would become one of the first big-name arrivals, just before the record signing of Muriqui from Campeonato Brasileiro Série A side Atlético Mineiro for £20m.
A myriad of domestic titles followed, but it was the 2013 AFC Champions League which brought worldwide publicity to the club for the first time. Now success on the pitch and not controversy off it created the headlines.
The managerial appointment of world cup winning manager Marcelo Lippi proved immensely popular with the fans, and the signings of Brazilian Alan Carvalho from Red Ball Salzburg and Jackson Martinez from Porto created a popular brand of the club in Europe.
Now Luiz Felipe Scolari is in charge of a Guangzhou side backed by a company worth over $4bn, and an owner Hui Ka Yan passionate about the health of the team he has moulded as his own.
Hui is the largest shareholder of China Evergrande Group. The business has more than 700 projects in more than 240 cities in China including Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen, creating revenue on a mammoth scale.
So even with the introduction of a 100% tax rate on signings from outside China, it would not be surprising to see Guangzhou break their transfer record again in the next few years. They are the club to beat going into the new Chinese Super League season.