SHANGHAI: In January 2017 Brazil international Oscar moved from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG for an Asian-record €60 million, prompting a warning from Arsene Wenger that Chinese clubs were distorting the global transfer market.
But four years later it is a very different story after the Chinese Football Association imposed a series of measures to cool extravagant spending in the Chinese Super League, markedly dimming its star power.
Six months after Oscar’s arrival the CFA slapped a 100 percent tax on incoming foreigners, with the levy going to developing Chinese youth players. Then last month the CFA said that overseas players cannot earn more than €3 million a year. Domestic players also saw their salaries capped.
“CSL club expenditure is about 10 times higher than South Korea’s K League and three times higher than Japan’s J-league,” said CFA President Chen Xuyuan.
“But our national team is lagging far behind. The bubbles not only affect the present of Chinese football, but also its future.”
All players must now have new contracts, according to the state news agency Xinhua, adding that teams can sign “supplemental agreements” with players whose existing deals were above the cap.
That means Oscar, the 29-year-old attacking midfielder, will continue to earn more than €20 million a year for the time being. But the message is clear: The days of inflated transfer fees and salaries to lure star players from Europe are over.
Oscar’s fellow Brazilian and SIPG teammate Hulk, 34, a €55.8 million purchase in 2016, left the club last month when his contract expired.
Italian forward Graziano Pelle was another high-profile exit this week, even if like Hulk his best days are behind him.
Tuesday’s Soccer News said their departures “heralded the end of the super-luxury foreign players era.”
As well as Oscar, some of the big names who arrived in recent years remain in the CSL, notably former Barcelona midfielder Paulinho and ex-Manchester United star Marouane Fellaini.
But the pool is shrinking and the last major signing in the CSL was Marko Arnautovic from West Ham United in July 2019 for 25 million euros, again to Shanghai SIPG.
Gareth Bale came close to joining Jiangsu Suning in 2019 before Real Madrid pulled the plug and Wayne Rooney also once explored a move to China.
But ahead of the new season in the spring, and with the coronavirus pandemic lingering ominously, nobody is talking about players of that calibre moving to the CSL anymore.
Instead, teams are looking at loans, free transfers or signings under the 45 million yuan (€5.7 million) threshold that would trigger the 100 percent transfer tax.