Its no secret that the Chinese Super League has an abundance of something professional football players pine for: lots of cash.
The preferred destination for players seeking these lucrative paydays used to be England, and it was only last year that the appeal of the league skyrocketed even further due to the league announcing their massive TV deal. The financial status of the Premier League even had Catalan giants Barcelona worried with regards to the possibility of missing out on transfer targets. Hell, even Bayern Munich were shaken up by the whole thing.
However, the real threat is no longer the Premier League — it’s the Chinese Super League.
They’ve already claimed the likes of Oscar, Hulk, Alex Teixeira, Gervinho, Graziano Pellè, Jackson Martinez, Carlos Tevez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Nemanja Gudelj, Papiss Cissé, Demba Ba, Ramires and Axel Witsel.
While Oscar’s transfer was the most expensive at some £60 million, the real eye-opener here is the wages these players are earning. The two highest-paid players in the world, on salary alone, are now playing in China. One of them is Oscar, who will be making roughly £21 million per year in base salary. The other is Carlos Tevez, who’s expected to rake in £32 million per year. That equates to somewhere around £600,000 per week.
Mental doesn’t begin to describe wages like that.
Most recently, rumors began spreading that Chelsea’s Diego Costa was ready to ditch his league-leading side mid-season and ply his trade in China. Amidst the flying speculation following his supposed bust-up wit Antonio Conte, on-loan striker Patrick Bamford was recalled and injured Everton winger Yannick Bolasie insisted that Costa “wouldn’t think twice” about a move away from Stamford Bridge to China. With £570,000 in weekly wages reportedly being offered to the Spaniard, one has to wonder how tempted he truly is — that sum of cash would make any player think, at the very least. Chelsea fans will have to bite their nails and wait out the January window to find out if their star striker will actually leave them high and dry.
It’s simple: offer a player massive wages that they can’t get anywhere else and you’re likely going to succeed in attracting more star power. It’s something Major League Soccer would love to do, but with limits on the amount of designated players a team can have, a salary cap, a CBA and a fanbase that doesn’t generate enough revenue, it’s not exactly possible — not now, anyway.
But the influx of Chinese offers has to die down sometime, right? There’s no way that the league has truly bottomless pockets and can continue this madness for very long. While that remains to be seen, the CFA did recently release a statement regarding the “Overall Plan for Reform and Development of Chinese Football.” These plans address the massive spending and aim to curb big investments and foreign imports while developing homegrown talent. According to Wild East Football, the CSL will also be instating a foreign player limit that would only allow teams to field three foreign players while having five on the roster. This would do away with the “3+1” rule that allows fourth non-Chinese Asian player to be on the field alongside the foreign imports.
Part of the aforementioned CFA statement reads as follows:
“The Chinese Football Association will introduce a series of measures and initiatives to regulate the operation and management of the clubs in the Super League following irrational investment, high-figure for transfer fees and player wages paid to domestic and international players and other issues.”
But even this might not be able to stop the desire for players to take to the pitch in China. For proof, we turn to Brazilian striker Adriano, and no it’s not that Adriano. This particular Adriano was most recently playing for Korean side FC Seoul, but like many others made the move to China.
“We thought long and hard about Adriano’s transfer,” FC Seoul said in a statement, “but since the player wanted to move to the club that offered him a better deal, we decided to accept his request for transfer,”
Adriano will reportedly make £2.5 million per year, which comes out to about £45,000 a week — the average salary of a Premier League player. It doesn’t sound like much when compared to the wild wages of Tevez and company, but players now have the option of making Premier League-esque money in a league that’s less competitive and easier to get into. When compared to MLS, that salary seems astronomical. In fact, the average MLS salary is $316,777.33 per year, and the median is $117,000. Alright, I get it… that’s MLS and they offer peanuts. But remember the Premier League example and then factor in that they spend over £2.5 billion in player wages, whereas Serie A and La Liga allocate a combined £2.3 billion for player wages.
You’re going to make more money playing in the Premier League than you will in Spain, Italy, Germany or France — unless your’e a superstar, then it really doesn’t matter. But the average, or even slightly above average player, will find that England is the place to go. And if you’re a player who doesn’t fall in that category, you can still make that kind of cash if you go ply your trade in China.
Ultimately, the influx of foreign players will make domestic Chinese players more valuable in the same way that English footballers are often overpriced in the Premier League *cough* Sterling and Stones *cough*
But that’s a very big if. Developing a league isn’t easy, just ask Major League Soccer. The league was founded 11 years prior to the creation of the Chinese Super League and it hasn’t been able to attract talent in their prime. Why? The money. Operating a league is an expensive endeavor, and the CSL has a massive leg up on some other leagues in this regard. This is even evidenced by Chinese clubs’ performance in the AFC Champions League. Chinese teams have won the international competition three times, whereas MLS teams have never won a CONCACAF Champions League title.
Comparatively, the CSL competes at a higher level than MLS with regards to international competition. They also have more money to spend than God — granted the CFA is looking to put an end to that.
Overall, this represents a shift in footballer’s philosophies. The era of the one-club player is certainly over — this is nothing new, and the time of players competing for the love of the game seems to be waning as well. At the end of the day, it’s somewhat difficult to lambast a player like Oscar for moving in his prime to China to rake in exorbitant wages. He’s looking out for No. 1 — him, and subsequently his family. It’s super easy to call him a money-grabbing, greedy player who doesn’t care about bettering his career as a footballer, but that’s an incredible amount of money and you’d likely make the same decision. It’s even more difficult to pan players like Tevez, Demba Ba and Gervinho who are past their primes and doing the same thing — they’re making the MLS decision, but supplant MLS with CSL and way more money.
Will the CSL take over world football? Probably not, mainly because the glory you can achieve over there is limited. But it is changing world football. It’s highly likely that we’ll see foreign players in their prime heading to China for a few seasons and then returning to the top leagues. Think of it as a mini-vacation complete with a massive pay raise. A 23-year-old Brazilian midfield still has a few years left before he hits his prime and likely has another decade’s worth of playing time left in his career, so what’s a few years in China making tens of millions a year going to hurt?
That’s the mindset we’re likely to see from players, and especially agents who are probably the ones to blame for this recent paradigm shift.