Just three months after securing a title, the champions of China's top professional soccer league have disbanded.
Jiangsu FC announced on Sunday that it will “cease operations” immediately, leaving the Chinese Super League without its defending champion.
“Even though we are reluctant to part with the players who have won us the highest honors, and fans who have shared solidarity with the club, we have to regretfully make an announcement,” a team statement read. “From today, Jiangsu Football Club ceases the operation of its teams.”
Jiangsu FC defeated Guangzhou F.C. in November to claim its first CSL title.
Reported money woes for parent company
Jiangsu FC was owned by retail giant Suning, whose chairman Zhang Jindong foreshadowed the closure of the franchise earlier in February amid reports of financial hardship.
"We will focus on retail business resolutely and without hesitation will close and cut down our business irrelevant to retail," Jindong said.
A women's team and youth teams formerly run by Suning have also closed for business. According to the announcement, Suning sought a buyer for the last six months without success. Suning maintains hope that a potential buyer will reach out. According to the Associated Press, Jiangsu FC had debts of around $90 million.
Decision reportedly won't impact Inter Milan
Suning is one of China's largest private retailers. It also holds a majority stake in Serie A-leading Inter Milan, which BBC Sport reports will not be impacted by Suning's decision.
The shutdown of Jiangsu FC arrives after a Super League spending spree in recent years to raise the league's profile among international top-tier leagues like Serie A, the Premier League and the Bundesliga. CSL clubs spent to lure top talent from around the world, with Jiangsu FC reportedly coming close to a deal to sign Gareth Bale for $24.5 million per season in 2019. That deal fell through, and Bale eventually returned on loan to Tottenham in England.
Less than two years later, Jiangsu FC is no more. For now, at least.
More trouble for Chinese Super League
Sunday's news is the latest sign of trouble for CSL. Chinese media report that the league's Tianjin Tigers are 10 months behind on paying players salaries and are seeking new investment after parent company and state-owned Tianjin Teda divested.
In February, CSL club Shandong Luneng was barred from participating in the Asian Champions League for breaking financial rules. According to the Asian Football Confederation, the club broke rules prohibiting teams from owing money to employees or authorities.
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