China’s Foreign Imports – Why are people so surprised?


Get in the well.

The money Chinese clubs spent and whom it was spent on was big news. Forget the likes of Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and Justin Bieber continuing to endorse the idea of throwing people into wells, what was happening in the Far East blew many away, much like a wannabe Kardashian.

Baffled European based supporters may ask, “Why China?” The answer to likely come back would be, “Money grabbers!” And so what if they are? Few seem to consider the origins of the players who have supposedly (likely) moved for the money.

Football is a unique occupation, but an occupation nonetheless. A professional playing career is short in length, rarely lasting more than 18 years. So is it fair to label some of these players as gold diggers (hush Kanye and Kim) for simply seeking financial support for them and their families when they hang up their boots? Whisper it, but some players might be more bothered about that than winning the Champions League.

The players who made big moves for big fees and/or wages were:

NAME                             NATIONALITY                       CLUB
Ramires                                      Brazilian                         Jiangsu Suning
Alex Teixeira                              Brazilian                         Jiangsu Suning
Renato Augusto                        Brazilian                         Beijing Guoan
Elkeson                                       Brazilian                         Shanghai SIPG
Jackson Martinez                     Colombian                      Guangzhou Evergrande
Fredy Guarin                            Colombian                      Shanghai Shenhua
Ezequiel Lavezzi                      Argentinian                     Hebei China Fortune
Gervinho                                     Ivorian                          Hebei China Fortune
Stephane Mbia                     Cameroonian                   Hebei China Fortune
Obafemi Martins                      Nigerian                         Shanghai Shenhua
Burak Yilmaz                              Turkish                          Beijing Guoan

Of these 11 players (aged 26-31), you’ll see that ten are from South America or Africa. Two continents often associated with less economically developed countries and therefore increasing the likelihood that these players came from a background concerned with surviving instead of medals.

South America providing most of the big name transfers in China.

For these players, football was probably an opportunity to get away from the hardships of their upbringings and live a more comfortable life. There aren’t many of us who would turn down an opportunity to triple our annual salaries for the sake of a few years in a brand new country and culture, particularly when that career could be only several years from finishing.

Being on the other side of the world was an experience I myself couldn’t resist. I certainly didn’t come to China for the money. My first job in Shanghai saw me earn less than half the amount I was earning on a graduate internship programme at university in England. I had around £150 remaining after paying rent and bills each month. So dinner often comprised of £1.50 roulette kung pao chicken from the local restaurant down the road. I say roulette because some nights it would be acceptable while others would leave me just eating plain rice and resorting to some crackers with peanut butter. Something these guys won’t have to worry about.

The vast majority of foreign Asian players are South Korean.

ancelotti eyebrow

Even Carlo was surprised.

The transfer of 26-year-old Brazilian, Alex Teixeira, raised the most eyebrows, including both of Carlo Ancelotti’s. The fee was staggering and the move even more so when days before he was being heavily linked to Liverpool.

On 23 January, he was quoted by Brazilian media outlet Globo as saying:

“It is my desire to move to a big league and I know that the English league is very strong.

“I am not ruling out other leagues but I do want to play in the Premier League. In my mind, it is the strongest in the world. I want a challenge and to further my career there.

“My aim is to move to a big club so that I can [do] well there and get a place in the Brazil squad. Everyone knows that it is hard to achieve and I need to leave here to achieve that goal.”

Teixeira at former club, Shakhtar Donetsk

By 5 February, Jiangsu Suning signed Alex Teixeira for £39m – an Asian record. He was quoted as still preferring a move to the English Premier League but that the offers didn’t meet his former club’s (Shakhtar Donetsk) high valuation.

It is unlikely that he will break into Dunga’s Brazilian side while he plies his trade in China, but given his age, he may well find himself back in Europe further down the line.

The CSL wants to be taken seriously by the stronger leagues in Europe. Before this transfer window, it was barely spoken about in the west and while for now it is simply an option for offloading players for high fees and matching wages, it is at least being noticed by the others.

China needs two things to happen for its top division to close the gap on England, Germany and Spain. Firstly, more European players of a high level need to be recruited. Yilmaz and Chelsea flop, Gael Kakuta, won’t cut it. And secondly, players (foreign or Chinese) will need to move to Europe from the CSL and succeed.

Until then, we will just have to get used to certain players opting for financial security over international caps and famous trophies. The fools.


Foreigners in China
Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 14.29.51There are 80 foreign players in the CSL (five in each of the 16 teams).

Familiar foreigners currently in Chinese League One (China’s Second Division):
Nikica Jelavic (30, Croatia) at Beijing Renhe
Zvjezdan Misimovic (33, Bosnia) at Beijing Renhe
Jadson (32, Brazil) at Tianjin Quanjian
Luis Fabiano (35, Brazil) at Tianjin Quanjian

Some of the former foreign players to have graced China in recent years (age at time of arrival):
Didier Drogba (34, Ivory Coast)
Nicolas Anelka (33, France)
Mohamed Sissoko (30, Mali)
Vagner Love (29, Brazil)
Alessandro Diamanti (31, Italy)
Robinho (31, Brazil)