A Chinese real estate tycoon who pledged to spend 500 million yuan ($77.3 million) to boost soccer in the country over the next three years has taken offence at comparisons with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Wang Jianlin, the chairman of Dalian Wanda, said his path to fortune had been nothing like that taken by the Russian oligarch.
“It’s a shame to be compared to the Russian billionaire. I feel ashamed to be mentioned with him,” he said.
“He accumulated his wealth by monopolising his country’s natural resources,” Wang was quoted as saying in the China Daily newspaper on Wednesday. “I set up my business empire step by step, competing fiercely in the market.”
Wang insisted he would not use Chinese soccer as his private recreation. The Dalian chairman said investment in Chinese soccer was “necessary support to push it out from the bottom.”
He added: “(Abramovich) treats soccer as a kind of amusement in his luxury life while I am really concerned about the sport’s poor situation in the country.
“I am keen to lift it from the valley.”
Dalian Wanda is not new to the soccer scene.
In 1993 it established the professional Dalian Wanda club, but the company sold up in 2000 disillusioned at the lack of progress of Chinese soccer.
Chinese soccer has lurched from crisis to crisis in recent years, disgruntled fans turning away amid corruption scandals, match-fixing and violence on and off the pitch.
“After all the (corruption) I hated the game deeply at that time,” said Wang. “I can’t say I still love soccer now.
“However, as an entrepreneur I felt the responsibility on my shoulders so I just came back to push it. I am not a saviour.”
The new deal reached between Dalian Wanda and the Chinese Football Association will include the hiring of top foreign coaches and sending young players to Europe for training.