China's football woes reflect country's ills

Graft, fragile property sector, overbearing state firms plague top teams and economy

Shanghai Shenhua fans holding up pictures of former Chelsea football star Didier Drogba earlier this year before his arrival to play for the club. His salary is now caught up in a club boardroom dispute. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BEIJING - When China's new leaders take office next month, they had better start watching some football.

The game can help them take a quick pulse of what is ailing the country.

China's three biggest football league teams, owned separately by three flamboyant tycoons, are mired in controversies that are symptomatic of the country's economic ills.

The overbearing presence of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) is dogging Shanghai Shenhua; corruption is pushing Dalian Shide to the brink of collapse; and the fortunes of defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande are being whittled away by uncertainty in the property market.