Who are the most popular football world cup players in China?
Although China didn’t qualify for the 2018 FIFA world cup, Chinese people are still looking forward to see their favorite players on the pitch during this international event. During the 21st edition that takes place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July 2018, star players from different qualified squads will appear on the world cup coverage of the Chinese CCTV, to the great delight of Chinese football amateurs. For the past few years, football experiences a growing popularity in China, enhanced by huge private and public investments realized by both Chinese main clubs and the Chinese government. It shows the great potential of World Cup business opportunities in China. For this special international event, Daxue Consulting therefore realized a research on Baidu index (百度指数) to know more about the top 10 star world cup players in China, as well as what topics are the most discussed about each football player on Wechat, Weibo and other Chinese social media platform.
This analysis shows the great opportunities for market players in China, including advertisers, fan product manufacturers, football-focused sponsors, sport equipment manufacturers.
Top 10 most famous football players in China
Baidu Index is an analytics tool, which gives the total number of searches based on keywords on China’s leading search engine Baidu. The following graphs take into account the searches of the three last months, from March 2018 to May 2018 included.
N°1 – Cristiano Ronaldo (克里斯蒂亚诺·罗纳尔多) – Portugal
With 10,700 average Baidu searches in the past 3 months, Cristiano Ronaldo is by far the most popular footballer in China. Considered as one of the most accomplished footballer in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo just lifted its 4th UEFA champion’s league trophy (the most prestigious annual competition) with Real Madrid in a victorious final against Liverpool (3-1) on May 26th 2018. Cristiano Ronaldo represents various brands in China, especially the health supplement brand Herbalife.
The searches on Baidu about Cristiano Ronaldo rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- E: April 4th 2018 – 2nd highest peak – Bicycle kick against Juventus – 45,000 searches: On April 3rd 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo scored an impressive bicycle kick during the quarterfinal away game of champions league against Juventus Turin (3-0)
- F: April 12th 2018 – 3rd highest peak – Last minute qualifying penalty kick – 27,000 searches: One week later, at the end of the return game at home against Juventus, Ronaldo scored a litigious penalty kick at the very end of the extra time (90’+7), sending Real Madrid to the semifinals (1-3, aggregate 4-3 for Madrid).
- J: May 27th 2018 – Highest peak – Champions league’s final – 60,000 searches: The highest peak was registered right after Real Madrid won the champions league’s final against Liverpool (3-1).
- “Cristiano” (克里斯蒂) and “Yanuo” (亚诺) : Refer to the surname of Cristiano Ronaldo in China.
- “Diniao” (迪尼奥), and “Ronaldinho” (罗纳尔迪尼奥) : Chinese searches often associate Cristiano Ronaldo not only with the Brazilian former player Ronaldinho, but also with other Brazilian former footballers such as Ronaldo or Robinho.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Cristiano Ronaldo on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Why is Cristiano Ronaldo the best footballer?:
- (15%): He is a “hard worker”.
- (10%): He has a “natural talent”.
- (70%): He is “self-disciplined”.
- Cristiano Ronaldo may leave Real Madrid:
- (90%): Don’t want Cristiano Ronaldo to leave Real Madrid.
- (10%): He should go to another club, which would provide him a good salary.
- Cristiano Ronaldo won the Champions league’s trophy again:
- (80%): Congratulations.
- (30%): He cannot be replaced.
- (45%): He is the King.
- (15%): He is handsome.
- (5%): Don’t leave Real Madrid.
- Who is the best between Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi?:
- (70%): Ronaldo is the best.
- (25%): Messi is the best.
- (5%): Both of them are very good players.
N°2 – Lionel Messi (里奥 · 梅西) – Argentina
There were 8,800 average searches about Lionel Messi between March and May 2018. He is the second most popular player in China after Cristiano Ronaldo. Roma surprisingly knocked out its club Barcelona (4-4 aggregate, away goal for Roma) during the quarterfinals of champions league in April 2018. However, Barcelona topped the Spanish league (La Liga Santander), and Messi won the golden shoe for the 2017/18 season by scoring 34 goals in this competition.
The searches about Messi on Baidu rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- B: March 15th 2018 – Second highest peak – Messi scored twice against Chelsea – 21,000 searches: Lionel Messi scored two goals in the home game of the round of 16 of champions league against Chelsea (3-0, aggregate 4-1 for Barcelona) on March 14th
- E: April 11th 2018 – Third highest peak – Barcelona eliminated by Roma – 17,000 searches: The third highest research peak for Lionel Messi was registered after Barcelona lost against Roma in the quarterfinal away game (0-3, aggregate 4-4).
- J: May 27th 2018 – Highest peak – Lionel Messi won the European Golden Shoe for the 2017/18 season – 31,000 searches: Messi finished the 2017/18 season as the top-scoring player in the top 5 European Leagues (34 goals). He scored more than both Mohamed Salah (32 goals) and Harry Kane (30 goals). After the champions league’s final between Liverpool and Real Madrid on May 26th, neither Ronaldo nor Salah scored for their respective team (44 goals each). Messi thus remained the best scorer in all competitions for the season as well (45 goals).
- “Duosi“ (多斯), “Likaduo” (里卡多), “Leite” (雷特), “Sangtuosi” (桑托斯), and “Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leite”(里卡多 伊澤克森 多斯桑托斯 雷特) : All the main associated keywords refer to the former 2007 Brazilian Ballon d’or (which is as the best individual award). After 2007, only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won this award until now.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Messi on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Iniesta’s retirement:
- (5%): He is a legendary player.
- (40%): Cried for his last game for Barcelona.
- (55%): Hope Messi will not leave right after him.
- Who is the best between Messi and Ronaldo?:
- (70%) Messi is more skilled.
- (25%) Ronaldo is more talented with the head.
- (5%) It is meaningless to compare their talent.
- Messi and the world cup:
- (60%) Support Messi and Argentina.
- (40%) Hope Messi will win the world cup this time.
N°3 – Mohamed Salah (穆罕默德·萨拉赫) – Egypt
Mohamed Salah is the new revelation of the season. After a successful season in Roma, Salah was transferred to Liverpool for the 2017/18 season. The Egyptian striker broke the record of goals scored in one season in the English league (Premier League), netting 32 times in 36 games for Liverpool in this competition. Salah also led his team to the final of champions league but was injured during the game, which was won by Real Madrid.
The searches on Baidu about Mohammed Salah rose dramatically twice (confer visual above):
- F: April 25th 2018 – Second highest peak – Salah scored twice against Roma during the semifinals – 48,000 searches: On April 24th 2018, Mohamed Salah scored two goals out of 5 during the home game against Roma (5-2, aggregate 7-6 for Liverpool).
- I: May 27th 2018 – Highest peak – Salah injured during the champions league’s final – 93,000 searches: This was the highest peak registered for a player over the past few months. Indeed, Liverpool was dominating the game against Real Madrid before Salah was sent off the pitch after Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid defender) injured him. This was a key moment of the final, as Liverpool’s attack was weakened for the rest of the game.
- “Leroy Sané” (萨内) : Leroy Sané is a 21 years old winger playing for both Manchester City and Germany. Chinese possibly associate Salah to Sané because of their Chinese name and haircut similarities.
- “Highlights of Salah’s skills” (萨拉赫集锦) : Chinese are curious about the skills of his performances recently put in the spotlights.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Salah on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- The Egyptians threatened Ramos after he injured Salah in the final
- (60%): Ramos injured Salah on purpose and should be punished.
- (20%): Injuries are unavoidable in competitive sports
- (10%): Did not support either side’s view
- Fan’s attitude towards Salah’s current situation and achievements
- (70%): He is a great player who improved a lot.
- (20%): Hope he will recover soon and be the leader of Egypt during the world cup.
- (10%): Discussing whether or not the Chinese team could qualify for the world cup if they had Salah on their side.
N°4 – Neymar (内马尔) – Brazil
Neymar is considered as one of the most talented player at the moment alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The 26 years old Brazilian star left Barcelona for PSG last summer for a record-breaking transfer of €222 million. Paris was beaten by Madrid in the round of 16 of champions league, but the French team won the French league (Ligue 1) and Neymar was recently named player of the season in Ligue 1.
The searches on Baidu about Neymar rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- A: March 7th 2018 – Second highest peak – Paris was defeated by Madrid in the round of 16 of champions league – 6,000 searches: Although Neymar didn’t play during the home return game in Paris (he was injured during a game against Marseille) on March 6th (1-2, aggregate 2-5 for Madrid), searches about the new PSG superstar raised after its team lost.
- B: March 15th 2018 – Third highest peak – Neymar was criticized after his Stephen Hawking “tribute” – 5,000 searches: Searches about Neymar increased after the Brazilian player took a photo of himself in a wheelchair as a tribute to the famous English physicist Stephen Hawking, who just died. It created a scandal since the player was smiling and accused of self-centeredness, as the player was also in a wheelchair because of his recent injury.
- H: May 27th 2018 – Highest peak – Neymar benefited from the champions league’s final visibility – 15,000 searches: Although Neymar didn’t play the final of champions league because its team didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, the Paris player is still considered as one of the best in the world. Therefore, the searches about him raised after a game he didn’t even play.
- “Real Madrid” (皇马): Since his move from Barcelona to Paris the last season, there are some speculations about Neymar already moving to the Real Madrid for the next season. The future of Neymar in PSG remains therefore uncertain.
- “Neymar’s girlfriend ” (内马尔女友): Chinese seems to be interested in his girlfriend, the 26 years old Brazilian actress and model Bruna Marquezine.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Salah on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Neymar imitates Stephen Hawking in a wheelchair:
- (50%): Against his behavior.
- (40%): He has done nothing wrong.
- (10%): Disappointed about Neymar.
- Opinion about Neymar’s recent move from Barcelona to Paris in Summer 2017:
- (70%): Support Neymar’s decision because he could be a leader and potentially win the Ballon d’or award.
- (20%): It was not a good choice because he was already in a very good team.
- (10%): Regret he left Barcelona.
N°5 – Andrés Iniesta (安德雷斯·伊涅斯塔) – Spain
Andrés Iniesta is arguably is one the best midfielder of his generation. Baidu searches about Iniesta increased in 2018 because the 34 years old Spanish player announced his departure from Barcelona. He signed a contract with Vissel Kobe (Japanese Club) on May 24th 2018. The 2010 world champion will play his last world cup in Russia.
The searches on Baidu about Iniesta rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- April 22nd 2018 – Third highest peak – Andrés Iniesta received a standing ovation after Barcelona lifted the Copa Del Rey trophy – 6,800 searches: Andrés Iniesta received a standing ovation after Barcelona won the Copa Del Rey after a win against Sevilla (5-0). He also scored one of the goals.
- April 28th 2018 – Highest peak – Departure announcement from Barcelona – 13,000 searches: Andrés Iniesta officially announced his departure from Barcelona.
- May 21st 2018 – Second highest peak – Final game with Barcelona against Real Sociedad (1-0) – 9,000 searches: Iniesta received once again a farewell standing ovation by the camp Nou for his last game with Barcelona.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Iniesta on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- What does fans think about Iniesta leaving Barcelona?:
- (40%): Do not want him to leave.
- (50%): Iniestia will always be at home and welcomed in Barcelona.
- Opinions about Iniesta after his announcement of leaving Barcelona:
- (40%): He is a legendary player.
- (20%): He is a good captain.
- (20%): He is an awesome player
- (10%): He is one of the greatest midfielders in history.
N°6 – Luis Suarez (路易斯·苏亚雷斯) – Uruguay
Luis Suarez is an Uruguayan forward playing alongside Lionel Messi in Barcelona. He won the Spanish league Golden Shoe in the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons. With 25 goals for the 2017/18 season, he was the third best scorer after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo this year.
The searches on Baidu about Luis Suarez rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- D: March 23rd 2018 – Highest peak – Suarez scored during the semi-finals of 2018 China cup – 4,400 searches: 4 nations took part in the second edition of the China cup organized in Nanning (南宁): Czech Republic, China, Wales, and Uruguay. Suarez scored one of the two goals against Czech Republic (2-0).
- E: March 26th 2018 – Second highest peak – Uruguay won the 2018 China cup against Wales – 4,200 searches: Uruguay won the Chinese tournament in a final game against Wales (1-0). Suarez didn’t score.
- J: May 27th 2018 – Third highest peak – Suarez benefited from the champions league’s final visibility – 3,100 searches: Although Suarez didn’t play the final of champions league because its team didn’t make it to the semifinals, The searches on Baidu about Luis Suarez increased after a game he didn’t play.
- Bite” (咬人) and “Suárez bites” (苏亚雷斯咬人): Luis Suarez is also known to have bitten opponents 3 times during his career. This recurrent violent acts on the pitch fascinate Chinese netizens.
- “Suárez’s transfer” (苏亚雷斯转会) and “Transfer” (转会): There are some departure rumors from Barcelona.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Suarez on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- How good is Suarez?
- (50%): He is the world’s best striker.
- (30%) He always wants to win.
- (20%) He is a barbarian.
- Opinion about Suarez biting others?
- (80%): He should be punished for that.
- (20%): It is not intentional and it may be a mental illness.
N°7 – James Rodríguez (哈梅斯·罗德里格斯) – Colombia
James Rodriguez is a 26th years-old attacking midfielder playing for Bayern Munich, in Germany. He is currently on loan from Real Madrid since the beginning of the 2017/18 season. With its team, he won the 2017/18 Bundesliga. His main achievements were the Golden Boot he received after the 2014 FIFA world cup in Brazil, where he scored 6 goals in 5 appearances for Colombia. He also won three champions league’s titles with Real Madrid.
The searches on Baidu about James Rodriguez rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- E1: April 26th 2018 – Second highest peak – Rodriguez participated to the semifinal home game against Real Madrid – 3,800 searches: Rodriguez didn’t score. Bayern lost the game (1-2 for Madrid)
- E2: May 2nd 2018 – Highest peak – Rodriguez scored against Real Madrid during the semifinals of champions league – 6,000 searches: Rodriguez scored against his former club in the away game in Madrid (2-2, aggregate 4-3 for Madrid). The game ended on a draw and led to the qualification of Madrid for the final.
- F: May 27th 2018 – Third highest peak – Rodriguez benefited from the champions league’s final visibility – 2,200 searches: Although Suarez didn’t play the final of champions league because its team didn’t make it to the semifinals, The searches on Baidu about James Rodriguez increased after the final between Liverpool and Madrid.
- “Sergio Rodríguez” (赛尔吉奥罗德里格斯) and “Frederico Rodrigues de Paula” (弟雷德): “Rodrigues” or “Rodriguez” are very common names in Spain and in South-America. Rodriguez’s searches on Baidu are linked to sportsman such the Spanish basketball player Sergio Rodriguez or to the Brazilian footballer Fred.
- “Georgina” (乔治娜): Georgina Rodriguez is the girlfriend of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Rodriguez on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- James Rodriguez’s future:
- (60%) He should stay in Bayern Munich.
- (30%) Hope he can go back to Real Madrid.
- (10%) No matter where he goes, he will improve anyway.
N°8 – Thomas Müller (托马斯·穆勒) – Germany
Müller is a German midfielder playing for Bayern Munich since 2008. Before that, he was trained in the club during his youth. He won the Golden Boot in the 2010 FIFA world cup in South-Africa, scoring 5 times. He also won the champions league’s final with his club in 2013. This season, Müller won the German league (Bundesliga) with his teammates.
The searches on Baidu about Thomas Muller rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- G: April 12th 2018 – Second highest peak – Quarterfinal return game and qualification of Munich for the semifinals – 2,200 searches: On April 11th 2018, the game between Bayern Munich and Sevilla ended on a draw (0-0, aggregate 2-1 for Munich), leading to the qualification of Munich for the semifinals of the champions league.
- H2: May 2nd 2018 – Third highest peak – Draw of Munich against Real Madrid in champions league’s semifinal – 1,750 searches: The away return game for Bayern in Madrid ended on a draw (2-2, aggregate 4-3 for Madrid) resulting in the qualification of Real Madrid for the final of the champions league.
- I2: May 27th 2018 – Highest peak – Müller benefited from the champions league’s final visibility – 2,000 searches: Although Müller didn’t play the final of champions league The searches on Baidu about Thomas Muller increased after the final between Liverpool and Madrid.
- “Lisa” (丽萨) and “Lisa Müller” (丽萨穆勒): Aside from the associated keywords with his own name, Chinese netizens also look information about his wife Lisa Müller.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Müller on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Müller and his wife:
– (90%): Wish they will be happy forever.
N°9 – Robert Lewandowski (罗伯特·莱万多夫斯基) – Poland
Robert Lewandowski is the current striker of Bayern Munich and the captain and the all time top-scorer for Poland. For the season 2017/18, he was the top scorer of the German league (Bundesliga) for the second time of his career. He also won the Bundesliga with his teammates this season.
The searches on Baidu about Robert Lewandoski rose dramatically on several occasions (confer visual above):
- A2: April 26th 2018 – Highest peak – Lewandowski participated to the semifinal home game against Real Madrid – 2,250 searches: Bayern lost the game (1-2 for Madrid).
- B: May 6th 2018 – Third highest peak – Lewandowski scored a goal against Cologne: Although he scored a goal, Lewandowski was substituted before the end of the match, which irritated the Polish striker.
- D: May 30th 2018 – Second highest peak – Lewandowski’s agent announced that Lewandowski wants to leave Munich – 1,700 searches: The destination of his transfer remains unknown at the moment.
- “Lewandowski’s 5 goals in 9 minutes“ (莱万多夫斯基9分钟5球) : Lewandowski’s most famous game was the one against Wolfsburg. He entered the pitch when Wolfsburg was winning 1-0. Lewandowski realized an incredible performance by scoring 5 times in less than 10 minutes (5-1 for Munich final score).
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Lewandowski on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Opinion about Lewandowski:
- (70%): He is one the world’s top strikers.
- (30%): He can be compared to Van Persie.
N°10 – Luka Modrić (卢卡·莫德里奇) – Croatia
Luka Modrić is a midfielder playing for Real Madrid since 2012. He is also the captain of the Croatian national team. With his teammates, he won 4 champions league’s trophies. He also won the Spanish league (La Liga) once in 2016/17.
The searches on Baidu about Luka Modric rose dramatically once:
- A2: May 27th 2018 – Champions league’s final with Real Madrid – 4,000 searches: Modrić was on the line up against Liverpool. Like other player who either played or not the champions league’s final, baidu searches about the Croatian midfielder increased after the game.
- “Rakitic” (拉基蒂奇)：Rakitic is another Croatian midfielder who plays for the rival Barcelona. They will both play for the next 2018 world cup in Russia.
- “Morata” (莫拉塔)：Morata was the former striker of Real Madrid in 2016/17. He was transferred to the English club Chelsea for the 2017/18 season.
Most discussed topics and opinions of Chinese netizens about Modrić on WeChat (微信), Weibo (微博), Zhihu (知乎):
- Opinion about Modrić:
- (60%): He is a world-class midfielder commander.
- (20%): He is confident player on the pitch.
- Who is the best between Modrić and Fabregas?:
- (60%): Fabregas is more skilled and is better at passing the ball.
- (40%): Modrić is better and has more physical aptitudes to get the ball.
Featured image courtesy of Rhett Lewis.
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Daxue Consulting has conducted various research and strategic analysis in the sport and especially the football industry in China. It includes sectors such as:
- sport equipment industry in China
- advertiser opportunities with sport in China
- fan products in China
- sponsorship in sport in China
- development of social media leverage for sport clubs in China
Featured image credit: History of Soccer