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01:42 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Cristiano Ronaldo’s star has shown no sign of waning in the Far East after the Juventus man topped the list of most influential footballers online in China for the second year in a row.

The 34-year-old beat long-time nemeses Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr to the top spot in the yearly table.

Shanghai-based sports agency Mailman’s ninth annual Red Card report found that while digital engagement with footballers and football clubs has decreased by 15% in China, the Portuguese legend was one of the few players to see both his Weibo engagement and follower growth increase in the previous year.

Ronaldo led all digital performance metrics, and finished the year as the most followed international player on Weibo.

Cristiano Ronaldo is still at top draw at 34 (Picture: Getty Images)

The ex-Real Madrid man said: “I am very pleased with this award. I know that I have a huge part of fans in China and it means a lot to be on top of the table for the second year in a row.

“Thank you very much for this, it’s a pleasure to be with you all.”

Neymar Jr. came second, beating out Messi for the spot. This was in no small part down to joining China’s Douyin platform (China’s equivalent of TikTok) in January 2019.

Douyin is a video platform that has a much younger demographic than Weibo, and is seen as the top platform among China’s Generation Z population.

club rankings mailman red card

Barcelona is ranked top on the list of clubs, jumping up from fifth place to overtake Spanish rivals Real Madrid.

That these Spanish sides occupy the top two spots isn’t tremendously surprising, but Chelsea leapfrogged historically popular sides Manchester United and Liverpool to become the most popular English side in China at third.

The biggest change comes for Espanyol, who are now ranked 15th, jumping 27 spots in the rankings, having signed Chinese superstar striker Wu Lei since the last report was released.

Commenting on this development, Collins said: “National pride was no more evident with the Spanish team Espanyol jumping 27 places in this year’s ranking following massive interest in China’s golden boy Wu Lei debuting with the club. A prolific striker in the CSL, now making his mark on the international stage.”

The signing of superstar striker Wu Lei has boosted Espanyol's popularity in China immensely.

The past year has proven to be a volatile time for global sport in China.

Andrew Collins, CEO of Mailman Group has said: “With all international sporting organizations on notice following the highly politicized events with the Houston Rockets and the NBA.

“We saw players and coaches from all sports having to become accountable for themselves online as China’s citizens assert more influence on the success of a business in China.”

The NBA is trying to repair damaged relations with China after Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted support for anti-government protestors in Hong Kong.

Surprisingly, football seems to be fairly unaffected by parallel events.

Three years ago, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil was in Mailman’s top three most influential footballers in China.

Özil – a muslim – posted criticism of the Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghur muslims in China.

READ: Mesut Ozil vs. China: Arsenal star makes human rights stand

Mesut Özil's criticism of the Chinese government's treatment of Uyghur Muslims hasn't affected his popularity among Chinese football fans.

The former German international hasn’t seen much of an impact on his Chinese following though, ranking fourth among individual footballers.

While Özil’s club Arsenal distanced itself from the midfielder, posting on the club’s Weibo page that these were “personal opinions” and that it has “always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics”, the club dropped from eighth to 13th in the club rankings.

However, seeing as Özil faced no personal drop, it is unlikely the club’s fall has been caused by his comments, but rather the Gunners facing a third straight season without Champion’s League football along with a run of poor form domestically.