With the Chinese Super League closing out last week, new champions were crowned in Shanghai SIPG – which also marks their first title in the domestic league after finishing runners-up twice in the last four years.
Shanghai SIPG were one of the first few clubs that splashed on foreign imports; Brazilians Oscar (£60 million) from Chelsea and Hulk (£45 million) from Zenit St. Petersburg in the summer of 2016. Starting in 2018 however, a new tax was imposed to the clubs – a 100% tax on foreign transfers over a transfer fee and the U-23 player quota to encourage young talents. The governing body of the league, the Chinese Football Association, has declared the tax would be contributed to a fund to develop young Chinese players. This however, could inflate the fees that Chinese clubs are willing to pay for younger talent from other leagues. Think Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior who cost €46 million or Kylian Mbappe from Monaco to Paris St Germain at €145 million, both at 18 years old.
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Over the years, many players have since made the jump abroad to China, and for various reasons. Some players were in it for the money, and some to close out their careers. It is surprising that there are a number of them who actually revived their career through the CSL, and secured moves to European giants soon after.
179 Brazilians to be exact, has switched to Kanji from Olá, making the South Americans the highest most populated foreign imports in the Chinese Super League.
Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C. boasts two Brazilians midfielders in Paulinho and Anderson Talisca. The team has won the league a record seven times, only to come in runners-up this year. Paulinho is one of the few rare gems that carved a new career out for himself after playing in the Chinese city. After two seasons in the Premier League with Tottenham Hotspur, he was sold to Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao F.C., where he scored 28 goals in three seasons. Barcelona came swooping in and snapped him up for €40 million. He then helped the Catalan giants complete a club domestic double, and was awarded with praises all round. His performance also earned him a call-up to the national squad for the World Cup. Surprisingly, he was loaned back to Guangzhou and signed an agreement to make it permanent.
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Tianjin Quanjian F.C also helped another player on his move back to Europe – Axel Witsel. The former Zenit St Petersburg midfielder completed a transfer to current Bundesliga league leaders, Borussia Dortmund, after 18 months at Tianjin. Despite Dortmund’s incredible depth in central midfield, which includes Mario Gotze, Nuri Sahin, Shinji Kagawa, Julian Weigl and Sebastian Rode, Witsel still manages to find himself in the top few of the pecking order.
Former wonderkid Alexandre Pato has also earned a reputation for himself as a prolific goalscorer for Tianjin. In his two seasons there, he scored 36 goals in 47 appearances. Once being compared to Brazilian legends Kaka and Ronaldo, Pato has since been inflicted with numerous injuries that has hindered his progression for both club and country. Only 29-year-old now, Pato has some work to catch up before competing with the likes of Neymar, Coutinho and Roberto Firmino for a spot in Tite’s team.
Majority of the foreign imports were handed massive contracts during the early stages of the league’s formation. Argentinian Carlos Tevez made the headlines when he reportedly took home £634,615 a week or £33 million a year. His one year tenure with Shanghai Shenhua only saw him put the ball past the keeper four times, which essentially cost the club a whopping £8.25 million per goal.
Country teammate Ezequiel Lavezzi on the other hand, is said to take home a ridiculus £798,000 a week. Lavezzi, who was signed for £6 million from Paris St Germain, has scored 32 goals in 64 appearances for Hebei China Fortune. Oscar and Hulk are said to make £400,000 and £320,000 a week respectively, which puts them in the same ball-park as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, both whom make £365,000 a week.
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When a footballer is around the age of 25-29, he will likely be at the peak of his prime. But why would a player like that abandon the hopes and dreams of Champions League football or competing in a league that has significantly more prestige and recognition?
Oscar, in an interview on why he did not move to the top European clubs said “Every football player, or every person who works, wants to earn money to help their families. I came from a social background in Brazil that is very poor.”
Belgian Yannick Carrasco on the other hand, played delicately and subtly with words, “The Chinese championship is booming, the working conditions are excellent, the new infrastructures are modern and they are available for both players and fans.”
Liverpool’s former main target Alex Teixeira openly admitted in an interview January of 2016, “The team received one offer from Liverpool. It was rejected, I don’t know why. There’s only been one offer and Shakhtar rejected it. I know my agent is still attempting everything possible to help get me to Liverpool. It was a great offer. It’s frustrating.”
Yet, in February, Jiangsu Suning announced that they have signed Teixeira for double the price Liverpool offered. ($50 million)
HOME GROWN TALENT
The Chinese population is estimated to be around 1.386 billion, surely they can train eleven elite players right? Not really.
Only one man stands out in the foreign import show – Shanghai SIPG and China’s very own, Wu Lei.
The 27-year-old Wu scored goals parallel to his age in the 2018 season, firing his club to their first league title and ending Guangzhou Evergrande’s seven-year dominance. He won the CSL Top Scorer and Player of the Year awards at the awards ceremony in Haikou. In fact, he was the only Chinese player to have a gold rated card on FIFA’s Ultimate Team this year.
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