Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Why Chinese Clubs Are Breaking Transfer Records – And Why Players Are Wise to Go | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page
Media ID: 55365242

Why Chinese Clubs Are Breaking Transfer Records – And Why Players Are Wise to Go

The world started to pay serious attention to the Chinese Super League during last January’s transfer window. Chinese clubs spent huge amounts of money as they tried to lure world-class footballers to the country, with the most notable spending coming from Guangzhou Evergrande, who signed Jackson Martínez from Atlético Madrid for £32m, and Jiangsu Suning, who paid Chelsea £20m for Ramires. The deals hit the headlines across the globe, and Shanghai SIPG’s £52m acquisition of Oscar from Chelsea and Carlos Tevez’s £71m move to Shanghai Shenhua, suggest the big spending will continue this year.

Although many people, including Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, claim that Chinese wealth is a danger to clubs around the world, the large figures are partially caused by market imperfections that have arisen due to the rule that Chinese clubs must limit the number of international players in their squads. This, coupled with the lack of world-class Chinese players, drives up the price of the best homegrown players; for instance Zhang Lu, a 29-year-old goalkeeper with just two caps for China, moved clubs for £8m last year. The high cost of top Chinese talent means it makes economic sense for clubs to spend large sums on top foreign players such as Oscar and Tevez. Indeed, given the inflated prices of Chinese players, Oscar’s price tag may be closer to his real value.

The Chinese government’s ambition to become a footballing superpower is another reason why clubs are so keen to splash the cash. The companies who own the 16 clubs in the Chinese Super League see investment as a way to gain favour with the government. Although China’s plan to become the world’s best footballing nation has many flaws, it is attracting a large number of fans to the game and, while the country may not produce the “Chinese Messi” the government wants, the large-scale investment in academies will improve the base level of Chinese football in the future, as well as the nation’s interest in the game.

The chance to make lucrative connections with the government, along with the restricted Chinese transfer market explain why clubs are willing to pursue foreign superstars. However, many people outside of Asia, especially in the English press, do not understand why top players are willing to move to China in their prime, often still seeing leagues outside of Europe as essentially retirement leagues. These players are deemed greedy and unambitious, descriptions they seldom deserve.

Footballers may dream of winning the Champions League with a storied European club but, essentially, football is football. Oscar will still be doing his dream job: he is still training through the week and then playing for 90 minutes, albeit on the other side of the world. I doubt there are many people who, if offered four times their current salary to do the same job wouldn’t be tempted to move to China for a few years, especially if their careers are as short and fragile as that of a professional footballer.

As for a lack of ambition, Oscar has the chance to go from benchwarmer at Chelsea to potentially the biggest star on an entire continent. If anything, staying at Chelsea and sitting on the touchlines would be showing a lack of aspiration and adventure.

Critics also claim that moving away from Europe damages a player’s career prospects. The quality of football in China is still a long way behind the top European leagues but moving to the Far East is not quite the career-destroying move many people make it out to be. First of all, there are plenty of players who have moved to a “retirement league” before returning to Europe and continue their careers successfully. People assumed Jermain Defoe would finish his career in Major League Soccer when he moved to Toronto FC in 2014. They thought the lower quality of football across the Atlantic would lead to Defoe losing his edge but his goals effectively kept Sunderland in the Premier League last season and a return to the England squad has been suggested.

Even Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba, whose spells at Shanghai Shenhua were reported in the English media as being disastrous, both returned to the Premier League after playing in China, with Drogba returning to Chelsea and Anelka joining West Brom.

With scouting systems and media now global businesses, it is possible to keep track of players’ careers from the other side of the world, so a move to China doesn’t mean players will drop off the radar. In fact, the influx of expensive imports and big-name managers have given the Chinese Super League more international attention than ever before.

Moving to Asia can put players in the shop window. Hulk, who will play alongside his Brazil team-mate Oscar at Shanghai SIPG, made his big break in Japan, where he played for Kawazaki Frontale, Tokyo Verdy and Consadole Sapporo. He scored 70 goals in 104 appearances in the J League and his goalscoring attracted the interest of FC Porto, where his impressive form led to a call-up for Brazil.

Edu had a reasonably prolific spell for German club Vfl Bochum towards the start of his career, but when he moved from Mainz 05 to South Korean side Suwon Bluewings in 2007, it may have looked like his time in Europe was over. However, after a successful spell at Suwon – where he helped them become Korean champions – he returned to Germany and ended up playing for Schalke 04 in the Champions League, scoring twice against Inter in the quarter-finals and playing against Manchester United in the semi-finals. He is now back in South Korea with Jeonbuk Motors, the current Asian champions.

Often players move from Brazil to Asia not due to footballing ambition (or greed for that matter; wages in Korea and Japan are similar to what a player would earn back in Brazil and are far lower than what players earn in the Premier League) but because of third-party ownership agreements, or deals with players’ agents. However, if players perform well in Asia, they will attract interest from other parts of the world.

Playing outside of Europe might dent English players’ chances of representing their national team – although David Beckham did earn international caps while at LA Galaxy, even before his loan spells in Italy – but Brazil are perfectly willing to call up their stars who play in China. Paulinho, who swapped Tottenham Hotspur for Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015, and Renato Augusto, who moved to Beijing Guoan last year, both played in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Peru in November.

Asian football still has a long way to go before it can match Europe’s top leagues for quality – the rule limiting foreigners prevents the leagues from just buying their way to the top – but standards are steadily improving every year. Asia’s leagues are slowly becoming more attractive for sponsors, viewing figures are slowly increasing and scouting networks are becoming truly international. China may not become the footballing superpower that its government craves, but Asian countries are not a graveyard for footballers’ careers.

(The Guardian)