The latest English transfer window may have closed, but where one door, or window, closes another one opens, and the Chinese Super League is making one hell of an impact in Europe.
Eyebrows have been raised by the big-name additions of Ramires from Chelsea, Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk who was a target for Liverpool and Atletico Madrid’s Jackson Martinez who all left for China for £25 million, £38 million and £31 million respectively.
Another Chelsea man, Oscar, was also subject of a whopping £75 million bid from Jiangsu Suning who are the team that lured Ramires and Teixeira to the Super League as well as Manchester City flop Jo for a more modest £8 million.
Fredy Guarin, who was touted for big things while at Porto but struggled to make much of an impact at Inter Milan, completed a switch to Shanghai for $11 million (around £7.5 million) and Shenhua can also boast Demba Ba and Tim Cahill as members of their squad.
Other big names include ex-Arsenal man Gervinho who is now at Hebei CFFC along with Stephane Mbia who will be remembered by fans of QPR, although probably not fondly, and former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho now plys his trade at Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande along with Martinez.
It is not just players that have made the move to Asia though. World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002 Luiz Felipe Scolari is the manager at Evergrande, journeyman Sven Goran Eriksson is the man at the helm of Shanghai, Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu is boss of the mega rich Jiangsu and one of the few Chinese players known to English fans, Li Tie, has been in charge of Hebei since August of last year. Guus Hiddink announced he had offers from China and even Jose Mourinho’s name has been banded about as a possible arrival.
So why is the Super League now…well, the super league?
Xi Jinping, President of China no less, happens to be a big football fan and is sick of watching his nation fall behind in the football world and has demanded the clubs spend big to attract the globe’s top talent.
The Guardian report the riches are coming from business men who are using the sport to improve their political relations and Jinping was in the UK as part of a state visit in October last year and paid a visit to Manchester City, despite being a fan of their rivals Manchester United.
Are the Chinese actually interested in the league though?
Damn right they are. From this season onwards clubs in the Super League are set to receive around $200 million (£134 million) a year as part of a five-season television deal package worth around $1.25 billion. In the 2015 season the clubs were awarded just $9 million which signals the rapid growth. To put that into some sort of context the Premier League’s three-year television deal is worth £5.14 billion which dwarfs the Super League in many respects, but the Premier League is 24 years old, the Super League has not even reached puberty yet, being just 12.
Why is the Super League different to MLS or Qatar?
Well, squad restriction is the best place to start..and China is more relaxed. American squad rules are complicated to say the least, but the headline is that MLS clubs are only allowed three “Designated” players which would be your high profile ones of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and the like. In China you are allowed five non-Chinese players but at least one still needs to be Asian – South Korean, for example. Three plus the non-Chinese Asian are allowed in a match day squad. The Qatari league allows four foreign players with at least one being Asian.
MLS players also have a wage cap whereas Super League teams can spend whatever the hell they want and it is not unfair to say that they have been.
The national team front would also be a major difference. The Chinese FA has launched a campaign to get the national side to where they believe it belongs and in January 2015 they reached the quarter-finals of the Asia Cup – their best performance in a decade. They won all their group games but lost to hosts and eventual winners Australia.
China is planning a bid to host the 2023 Asia Cup, and Xinping has ordered that football be more prevalent in schools…and when you are a country with a population of an estimated 1.357 billion surely some of them could and will be top footballers if brought up with the sport from a young age.
Qatar already have the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, for now at least, but their approach of moving young players from African countries to Qatar so that they can citizenship before 2022 is not exactly the traditional method of grassroots.
Soccer is growing in the U.S slowly but surely, although it is still seen as a women’s game in the States due to the apparent ‘no contact’ nature of the sport – and this is highlighted by 26.7 million Americans watching the Women’s World Cup Final (won by the USA), but only 17.3 million watched the men’s team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Is the Chinese model sustainable?
Looks like it. When you have got big business men along with the fifth richest man in the world involved, you always have a chance.
Do not be surprised if this time in the next few years, maybe even next year, you are sat in-front of your television set glued to Guangzhou Evergrande vs Jiangsu Suning and watching the players your club were after in the summer.