The rise of the Chinese Super League

The Chinese Super League certainly hasn’t been at the forefront of the footballing world or the majority of supporters’ conversations since it’s inception back in 2004; but that is all about to change. The recent spending power coming out of China has certainly caught the attention of the football industry in recent weeks, with many high profile transfers and for surprisingly large fees.

Some of the moves which have really made an impact have been the transfers of Chelsea’s Ramires to Jiangsu Suning for £25m, Jackson Martinez moving from Atletico Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande for £31m and Alex Teixeira to Jiangsu Suning from Shakhtar Donetsk for £38m. The unprecedented spending has naturally seen a new transfer record with almost each move, especially the three mentioned with each move breaking the record all within a ten-day period. With the transfer window open until 26th February it’ll be interesting to watch further developments.

Other notable players to have made the switch to play in the Chinese Super League in the last few years have included the likes of Paulinho, Gervinho, Demba Ba, Fredy Guarin, Stephane Mbia and Asamoah Gyan. Previous to that were Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka who both had brief stints at Shanghai Shenhua during the 2012-13 season after leaving Chelsea.

The rise of football in China has been partly due to political influences with the president Xi Jinping, keen to develop football in the country stating last year, “my greatest hope for Chinese football is that Chinese teams can become one of best in the world”. A big football fan himself, he hopes to help the country both qualify for another World Cup and host the tournament.

Another big factor in the spending of Chinese clubs is the recent TV deal which has been signed for an incredible £830million over a five-year period. Putting this into perspective, the previous deal in 2015 was worth just £6.2million, with the new deal trumping the previous by 30 times. The new English Premier League TV deal which will come into effect from next season is worth £5.1billion between Sky Sports and BT Sport, with further overseas deals taking the total amount close to £8billion over the three years.

The money from the deal in China will be spread around the Super League clubs, which will in turn allow them to pay heavy transfer fees and attract top talent to their country, much like their European counterparts have been able to for many years now. The difference being that the wages being offered to players is staggering and something many clubs in Europe can’t compete with. With this new found money in China the top clubs in Europe will certainly have a new competitor in the transfer markets from now on, but as seen already in the Premier League clubs haven’t been shy with their spending in January, with their new TV deal looming.

A prime example would be Liverpool’s January transfer target, Alex Teixeira who moved for £38million is reportedly set to earn £10million a year, making him the tenth best paid player in the world. It’s easy to see why players are making the switch but it might also tell you something about the players’ ambitions within the game.

If you look at the ages of the players previously mentioned in the article currently in the Chinese Super League, you wouldn’t say that they were in the twilight years of their careers. With seven of the eight players being between 28 to 30 years old, with Teixeira being the anomaly at only 26 years old; showing that China is able to lure players that are by no means over the hill and could more than do a job in Europe.

With the Chinese Super League clubs now able to pay higher wages, some senior players may now be tempted to make the move to China as a final payday before bowing out of the game. With the league now seemingly improving slowly the prospect of attracting high profile players of all ages will no doubt improve the league further, if not just for the publicity and fan fare.

This will no doubt have a detrimental effect for Major League Soccer (MLS) over in America, who are renowned for getting players at the end of their careers to play in their league. Some of the names currently over in the States includes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Villa, Andrea Pirlo, Robbie Keane and Kaka, just to name a few. These players are without doubt the most notable playing in the MLS currently, with each player also over the age of 33.

In the MLS, all clubs operate within a restrictive salary cap and are only permitted to have a maximum of three designated players whose salaries can exceed the maximum budget. All of the players mentioned above are designated players for their respective clubs, with the highest earner Kaka with an annual wage of £4.3million and the lowest of the six players being Pirlo earning £1.3million a year in comparison. Outside of the designated player rule, salaries aren’t that generous in football terms with the median salary in 2015 coming in at approximately £75,000 a year.

This can in turn make it very difficult going forward for the MLS trying to attract players under their current financial structure and roster rules, especially with the prospect of players eyeing up larger deals in China now. Players nearing the end of their careers may now have an alternative and look towards the Chinese Super League where the tempo might not be at the level in Europe and they would also be guaranteed a nice final pay packet.

One thing for certain is that Chinese football is starting to take off with the recent influx of money available in the game and who knows where it’ll end or if it can be sustainable. They unquestionably have huge ambition to make something happen on a large scale and no doubt it’ll have a major effect across the whole game; with it having already started in recent weeks.

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