Historically, neither heavyweight nation is known for its soccer prowess. Stateside, the sport simply isn't as popular as basketball or baseball while in China, a higher priority on education over sports among children and a poor infrastructure of networks are to blame—a problem shared by India.
"The North American Soccer League went through a very similar situation as we're seeing now in China with huge spend from teams, like the New York Cosmos, in bringing the best players—Pele, Beckham—to the American game," Thomas told CNBC on Monday.
Once that boom-and-bust ended, the American model then switched to fundamentals, i.e. getting kids to start playing at a young age, Thomas continued. "Now, when you look at the re-establishment of the Major League Soccer (MSL), there's grassroots strength across all demographics. I'm not saying the [U.S.] model is perfect, but you've got to build a foundation before you start signing major deals."
In the mainland, clubs are busy importing expensive players at a record pace to drive national interest in the sport and curry favor with the government.
Over the weekend, Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel signed with Chinese Super League (CSL) club Tianjin Teda, becoming the latest high-profile player to join the CSL. The details of the deal were undisclosed but it's fair to assume the transaction was in the millions, judging by recent moves in the industry. Mikel's former Chelsea teammate Oscar was bought over by Shanghai SIPG for an estimated $63 million on Dec. 23, while Argentine striker Carlos Tevez signed with Shanghai Shenhua on Dec. 26 for an alleged 84 million euros.