The amount of money spent on transfer fees and wages by Chinese clubs over the last two years have made the country an attractive proposition for many footballers.
Admittedly, the Far East doesn’t have the same amount of prestige as playing in one of Europe’s big leagues yet, but the amount of growth the Chinese Super League (CSL) have shown in recent times is nothing short of astounding.
The world first started to take notice of the CSL in 2011, when the relatively unheard of at the time Dario Conca was signed by Guanzhou Evergrande in a deal that made him one of the highest paid players on the planet. The first wave so to speak.
A host of other players from South America and Africa – in particular followed – but over the last 12 months or so the stature of the players making the move to the Far East has increased significantly.
In this ‘second wave’, which partially coincided with managers of the prestige of Marcello Lippi, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Luis Felipe Scolari – household names across the globe – players from Europe have begun to regard the Chinese Super League as a viable destination.
Brazil international Paulinho was arguably the first – signing of Scolari’s Guanzhou Evergrande last season – but in January the CSL’s spending reached a whole new level, as the graph below indicates.
Last month the CSL spent more than any of the top European leagues. Whilst Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez at the fore, the CSL spent approximately as much on transfer fees as the English Premier League, the Bundesliga and La Liga did collectively.
And it didn’t stop there. Last week, Ezequiel Lavezzi joined Hebei China Fortune for an undisclosed fee – not thought to be huge considering he had entered the final six months of his contract with PSG – but on wages reported to be in excess of half a million dollars a week, the Argentine international is now the world’s highest-paid player.
Considering the CSL’s transfer window only closes on February 26, it is not beyond the realms of possibility for more big-money deals to happen.
But to what end?
Even though the CSL has only existed for 12 years, the influx of talent from abroad have arguably made it the strongest league on the Asian continent already. Guanzhou Evergrande have been crowned Asian champions twice in the last three years and the four Chinese sides competing in this year’s AFC Champions League are among the favourites.
There is also nothing to suggest that the CSL’s near-exponential growth isn’t sustainable.
China’s economy is the second largest in the world and with a host of wealthy businessmen rumoured to be bankrolling the clubs – seemingly with state approval – there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what the CSL could achieve.
The TV rights to the CSL for the next five years is more than 30 times the previous number and according to Shanghai SIPG boss Eriksson, it is only a matter of time before some of the world’s elite choose the CSL as destination ahead of the leagues of England, Spain, Germany and Italy.
“Now, in 2016, China seems to be taking over. Top Chinese clubs today can hold their own with the biggest clubs in Europe when it comes to the transfer fees,” said Eriksson.
“Names like Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, yes, it will probably happen pretty soon.”
How soon, though, remains to be seen.