Costa to China would be a game changer for Asia

The Diego Costa to China story is one that will not go away.

It has been simmering away for a few months, to the great annoyance of Chelsea. Fans of the English Premier League champions elect have been reading stories about their star striker moving to the Far East.

Tianjin Quanjian are pretty keen on the Brazilian-born Spanish star and the ambitious team, enjoying their first season in the Chinese Super League, are ready to pay big money for the striker.

The club wants to make headlines around the world. That has happened already but if the deal actually goes through, then the attention would go through the roof.

The interest in December was such that it moved Chelsea coach Antonio Conte to complain about the dangers of Chinese spending to clubs in Europe shortly after Shanghai SIPG had paid around $60 million for Oscar. It was a bit rich for a club that joined the continent’s elite only after a massive injection of cash from owner Roman Abrahmovic but the arrival of the Chinese Super League in the world transfer market has shaken things up.

Costa going to China would be by far the biggest signing made by any club in the world’s most populous country and arguably the biggest ever in Asian football history.

The striker may not be the biggest name ever to head east. Zico, Raul, Xavi, Gary Lineker, Gabriel Batistuta and Didier Drogba are just some of the stars that came east before the current waves of big names. These were world names but they were coming when they were, to put it politely, past their peak.

The names in China at the moment are certainly big. Oscar, Hulk, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeria, Ramires, Paulinho, Carlos Tevez and others are recognized around the world. They cost and earn a pretty penny.

But while these are world stars, many were not key players in big clubs in the big leagues. Teixiera and Hulk came from Russia and Ukraine while Tevez was back home in Argentina.

Ramires and Oscar arrived from Chelsea but neither were automatic starters for the London club. Paulinho is still described as ‘Tottenham flop’ in the English media after his troubles in England.

Yet Costa is different. He is the star striker at the club that is about to win the English Premier League. He is a player that the champions elect of England do not want to lose. Selling Oscar to Shanghai for $60 million was good business and good money for a squad player but Costa is one of the first names on the team sheet.

If the striker stays, he will be spearheading Chelsea’s challenge in the UEFA Champions League.

Taking a star player from the best team in the most popular league in the world would be a huge event for Chinese and Asian football. It would show that there is no player in any league in the world that can’t be a genuine target of any Chinese team.

There have been cries of how it is all about the money. Maybe so, but then it is unlikely that Costa grew up in the nineties dreaming of playing at Stamford Bridge for a team that had not won the English title since 1955 and was hardly a giant of the European game. Chelsea’s success that has brought domestic and continental titles has come via the kind of sudden and major investment that has become more and more commonplace in China.

Proof that China is not an international graveyard.

And China is not the international dead end that some have painted it as. Paulinho arrived in Guangzhou in 2015 after a difficult time in England. He had lost his place with the Brazilian national team. Yet, not only has the midfielder made his way back into the ranks of the Selecao, he is now starring for his country. Paulinho’s hat-trick in a 2018 World Cup qualifier at Uruguay in March, inspired Brazil to a 4-1 win in Montevideo, the team’s best result for some time.

It was a significant step for Asian football that a player based in the continent could go and perform so well for one of the biggest national teams in the world against such tough opposition.

And signing someone with the stature of Costa would be another.

It remains to be seen whether Costa will go or not. It is certainly possible. Recently he told media in Brazil that: “I’m happy at Chelsea. But I’m not saying I’m happy with my life in London, because that is something totally different – the one thing has nothing to do with the other.”

That is hardly a refusal and while Costa may not be worth the astronomical salary that is being talked about, it doesn’t really matter – it is the symbolism that would be striking. Leaving the soon-to-be English champions for a club in China would be a big statement and show that the Chinese Super League really is becoming the place to be.

It would be a game changer not only for Chinese football but for Asia.