Chinese Premier League continue spending spree on foreign players

July 12, 2016
Chinese Premier League continue spending spree on foreign players

Graziano Pelle moves to become the fifth highest-paid player in the world... so, where will the crazy Chinese spending stop?

When the leader of China puts his weight behind something, the rest of the world tends to take notice.

President Xi Jinping is supporting plans to make his country a football superpower which is why unprecedented sums have already been spent on Jackson Martinez, Graziano Pelle and Hulk.

The big question now is how long before Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or even the next generation of superstars such as Antoine Griezmann become realistic targets?

Graziano Pelle has joined Shandong Luneng in a £13million deal despite interest from Chelsea and Everton

The ex-Southampton star (left) was given a rapturous reception by Shandong Luneng supporters on Tuesday

When things happen in China, population 1.4billion, they move fast. In 2014, Sven Goran Eriksson was chasing Shola Ameobi for his club at the time, Guangzhou R&F. Fast forward two years and his new club Shanghai SIPG have just splashed out £46million on Brazilian striker Hulk from Zenit St Petersburg.

For heading east, Hulk will earn £340,000-a-week, a salary bettered only by Messi and Ronaldo. Ditto other recent imports Alex Teixeira, Martinez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ramires, Papiss Cisse, Gervinho, Asamoah Gyan, Pelle and Demba Ba, who are all earning fortunes.

Pelle's move to Shandong Luneng from Southampton has catapulted his earnings to an estimated £13.5million-a-year, more than any Premier League player bar Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Manchester United who is only on a one-year contract.

With the Chinese season running from April to November, this is their shorter transfer window, and runs out on Friday. But looking further ahead, agent Emanuele Palladino who helped broker the Cisse deal from Newcastle to Shandong Luneng thinks they may only be the start.

'It has really taken off in the last year,' says Palladino. 'China wants to be seen as a force in football and the way they do that is to spend money. They hope to inspire future generations and ultimately the goal is to make the Chinese national team a force.

'If an overseas player goes to China, you try to make sure they are aware of the cultural differences and they will have their family and friends around them. After that the decision is for them to make.

Pelle was greeted by jubilant fans after landing in China following his £13million arrival from Southampton

The 30-year-old made 81 appearances during two successful campaigns with the Saints, scoring 30 goals


1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) - £18m per year

2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) - £17m per year

3. Hulk (Shanghai SIPG) - £17m per year

4. Neymar (Barcelona) - £16.2m per year

5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Manchester United) - £13.6m per year

=5. Graziano Pelle (Shandong Luneng) - £13.6m per year

'It is a very exciting market. There are limitless opportunities and it's just the start of the journey. The financial rewards for players are huge.'

For certain, the Chinese Super League can no longer be taken as a joke. Blighted at one time by corruption scandals and failed experiments like Didier Drogba and Nicholas Anelka, the establishment have decided to make it work. And in China they usually can. The impact already seems to have had an inflationary impact elsewhere, including England.

For Pelle, who shortly turns 31, being recruited by Shandong will feel like winning the lottery every month. But for top European leagues, it's the sight of younger ones heading east that raises longer-term concerns.

Brazilian Alex Teixeira is only 26 but was happy to sign for Jiangsu Suning in a £38million move from Shakhtar Donetsk earlier this year when Liverpool wanted him at Anfield.

Even someone as wealthy as Roman Abramovich couldn't say no when Jiangsu offered £25million for Ramires in January, even though Chelsea were clearly short of strength in depth in their squad.

Hulk will earn £340,000-a-week at Shanghai SIPG, a salary bettered only by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo

Ex-Chelsea midfielder Ramires (left) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (right) are two high-profile names to move to China

Chinese clubs have already fluttered their eyelids at Wayne Rooney and John Terry, knowing the presence of two of England's Golden Generation would raise the Super League's profile even higher.

Both have said no so far, and that may be partly due to the reluctance of English players generally to venture far from home. Certainly overseas stars are brought up at an earlier age learning new languages, let alone different cultures.

The standard of Chinese football has not be high to date. Their only appearance at a World Cup finals came in 2002 when they lost all three group games without scoring a goal.

However, things are set to change quickly, starting at club level. Attendances in the 16-team Super League have doubled to 22,000 since 2004.

Didier Drogba moved to Shanghai Shenhua in 2012 but the Chelsea legend's spell in China didn't last long

Chinese clubs have already fluttered their eyelids at Wayne Rooney, who has decided to remain in England

Champions and current league leaders Guangzhou Evergrande are best supported with average crowds of 45,000 and have won the last five league titles, and the Asian Champions League in 2015 though they are out of this year's competition. Evergrande only seem to put World Cup-winning managers in charge; first Marcello Lippi and currently Felipe Scolari.

Other clubs want to catch them up. 'China wants to be the biggest and best in most things and football is no different,' says Eriksson emphatically.

Chinese clubs spent £208million in the January window – more than the Premier League - and the wages and transfer fees have increased again.

Australian veteran Tim Cahill, who has played in four continents, is on his second club in China. 'The support here is fanatical. There are 20million people in Shanghai and everywhere you go in the streets all they talk about is football,' he says.