Chinese Super League: Flash in the Pan or here to Stay?


Well – we all thought the English/European transfer window was the one to watch – but now clubs are being a lot more careful about who they buy – a new power has sneakily found it’s way in. A league that people laughed at when the odd player made their way across for millions of pounds a year, but now – they are making a statement in a whole new way. By signing some of Europe’s best.

The Chinese Super League has really hit the forefront of footballing news in the last month. The league outspent the Premier League thanks to three huge buys. Jackson Martinez for £32m, Ramires for £25m and Alex Teixeira for £38m. There were also attempts to sign Odion Ighalo and Oscar for sums bigger than the above mentioned. This is not like America, or India nowadays – players are not simply wandering over for one final paycheck at the end of their career – some of Europe and South America’s finest are heading over at a young age to make the most of what is a growing league that is also offering obscene wages, of course.

My current count is 21 Brazilians in the top division at the moment, and having spoken with a Brazilian colleague of mine he has told me that because of the situation in Brazil of financial doom – players from their native leagues are abandoning ship for the high paying Chinese, Indian or even American leagues as Europe will not pay such wages to the majority who are staring 30 in the face.

So – this January the following moved to China:

  • Renato Augusto, Fredy Guarin, Alan Carvalho, Gervinho, Jo, Fredy Montero, Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez and of course Ramires.

Ezequiel Lavezzi could be following in the coming days too!

They were the big movers and shakers. Already in the league – just the top league, you have:

  • Demba Ba, Asamoah Gyan, Tim Cahill, Marcelo Moreno, Paulinho, Ricardo Goulart, Matt Spiranovic, James Troisi, Diego Tardelli, Elkeson and Aloisi.

Even in the League below in China you have the following players:

  • Luis Fabiano, Constantin Budescu, Mohamed Bangura, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Franck Nouble and Jadson. Ex-Real Madrid and Brazil coach Wanderley Luxemburgo is managing the side with Jadson and Fabiano.

In the top flight there are some very good managers – Sven Goran Eriksson, Alberto Zaccheroni, Luis-Felipe Scolari and Dan Petrescu among others. This is nothing like the Indian Super League, where they are pulling statues out of retirement homes – these are current, household names who are still someone’s in world football.

Looking at the players – many are still internationals, and some might not be anymore because of this move. Ricardo Goulart is still only 24 and just picked up his first cap for Brazil. Teixeira could have moved to Liverpool, Guarin and Martinez both Colombian internationals who starred at the 2014 World Cup – both could pretty much go wherever they wanted. Alan (Carvalho) was looking class at Salzburg with 59 goals in 89 games – could have followed the likes of Mane over to England and the big European leagues.

Money having ‘The Premier League Effect’?

The other amazing thing is the influx of money from President Xi Jinping has risen prices of domestic players with some moving for as much as £5-8m, and even some of them aren’t even in the Chinese national team. Whereas the Premier League has built itself over the last 25 years or so, China is trying to emulate it within the space of about 8-10 years – with the real money coming in recently.

The league has however tried to get away from where the Premier League went massively wrong. They have limited the number of foreign players allowed in each team to 5 (4 + 1 from the AFC – an Asian footballer from outside of China). In a game only 3 + the one AFC player are allowed to play. Clearly Xi Jinping has a good idea about bringing in the best and getting the Chinese youngsters to learn from them.

The end goal is clearly for them to get a World Cup at some stage. Stadia will improve, and the players might well keep flocking. There will come a key moment soon however. Clubs might want more than the set limit of foreign stars, and if there is no budge there will be an almighty turnaround of players – with the old/ageing going out and newer ones coming in. Hopefully, if that is stuck to – it will stem the flow of transfers and not risk the diminution of some of Europe’s leagues.

Culture Shock

According to Tim Cahill, a lot of these guys coming over will get a shock, Apart from one or two places, most will not be the luxury apartments and houses they are used to. He added

“Choices now players are making, it’s not about football like it was in my day, it’s purely about personal gains,” he said. “Is [going to China] going to help players? No. Is it going to be big for the country? Yes.”. He questioned a couple of players who have gone to some dodgy parts of China, such as a team who borders with North Korea. He added “You won’t see me going to Liaoning,” he said. “You see Troisi and players like that, I don’t think they really look at what they’re doing before they sign. I didn’t go there blind. I live in Shanghai, it’s a big city, some of the other areas it’s a bit tough and we’ll see how long they last.”

Brazilians on the Decline

I do fear for Brazilian football though – there has been a huge reduction in players trading between their homeland and Europe as I believe the quality is going down. Lucas Silva to Real Madrid was the only one of note in recent times and with a good deal of them more worried about money than the prestige of the Champions League or Serie A/La Liga – I feel the trend of them going to China, India or the MLS will continue. There is certainly an element of clubs in Europe not willing to match wages and fee’s for someone who has a 50/50 chance of succeeding.

This sort of thing – but not to this scale, happened a while ago in Japan. Diego Forlan even went there for a season, as did Zico for a while. But the problem is players are only there for the money, and when it dries up they move on to the next cash-cow they can find. Having just trawled through each J-League side, there is still remnants of the experiment. Each side has a couple of either very young or ‘nearly 30’s’ players hanging about who are average Brazilian Serie A players, who just want some money. There are several I’ve seen that were dubbed as wonderkids in years gone by but greed has taken it’s toll.

Is the Premier League running scared?

Arsene Wenger seemed a little worried about it all. But as the saying goes “the star that burns twice as bright last’s half as long’. I fear this will be the case in China, and probably in India too – and indeed what happened in Japan. If Xi Jinping suddenly loses interest, and pulls the plug on a lot of the financing – it will disappear as quickly as it all happened.

To build what Europe has, you need a mix of the coaches, players, stadia, well known competitions and legends of the game in and about the clubs. Although the Chinese league has been going a while, it’s taken hundreds of millions of investment for anyone to take notice – but it will need so much more than that to usurp any of the European leagues.

So – answering my original question in the title – I think this is going to be a petrol-inspired flash in the pan. Once the flames of excitement and money have burnt off, there will be nothing left other than what was there to begin with.