Shop till you drop. China has been busy with a buying spree since the New Year Day, snapping up big name footballers with the most money in the international transfer market.
Up to this week, the Chinese Super League (CSL), the country’s premier professional soccer league, has spent more than $286 million, more than twice what it spent last summer.
The splurge kicked off as Shanghai SIPG imported Brazilian striker Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso with 18.5 million euros on Jan. 21 from Guangzhou Evergrande, defending CSL champion and Asian Champions League winner.
The CSL runner-up hopes to enhance its competitiveness as a new-comer of the Asian Champions League by buying the 26-year-old striker, who scored 77 goals in three seasons for Evergrande, and scored the winning goal for Evergrande in the Asian Champions League final last November.
But Shanghai SIPG didn’t hold the transfer record for long. The record has been smashed several times in a month, the latest by Jiangsu Suning, who lavished 50 million euros to acquire Brazilian midfielder Alex Teixeria from Ukraine club Shakhtar Donetsk on Feb 5.
The 26-year-old star will join compatriots, former Chelsea midfielder Ramires and former Brazil international striker Jo. The star cast made Jiangsu Suning one of the favorites in the upcoming CSL season, which will start in March.
Evergrande hasn’t saved money, either. The champion club signed Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez on a four-year contract for a fee of 42 million euros. But compared with what it had shelled out last summer, the club seems to keep a lower key.
Having tasted defeat last year, CSL sides Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guoan respectively signed Brazil center-back Gil and Turkey international Burak Yilmaz but lay low till February 26 when China’s transfer window closed.
Another league side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, after an unsuccessful season, aims to challenge Evergrande in CSL this year. The club announced that they got Nigerian international striker Obafemi Martins from Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders on Feb. 19. Days ago it had announced they already got former Inter Milan talent Freddy Guarin.
The chase of stars also extends to the league’s new promoters. Hebei China Fortune has got Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, the world’s fifth most expensive soccer player, on the hook with a weekly salary of 400,000 pounds.
Apart from Lavezzi, the club also bought several famous footballers from European leagues, including Cote d’Ivoire striker Gervinho, Cameroon captain Stephane M’Bia, Sevilla midfielder Gael Kakuta and Australian defender Ersan Gulum. The newcomer is regarded as a dark horse in CSL this year, but some argued that it’s hard for them to make any breakthrough because of weakness in back-lines construction.
But the price they paid didn’t seem to pay off immediately as cash-rich Chinese clubs endured a disappointing opening night in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday. Both Guangzhou Evergrande, coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Shanghai SIPG failed to win their opening group games.
Not every club in the league joined in the binge. Promoted Yanbian Fude, who only imported some inexpensive players and topped in the second division league of China last season, still has attracted a lot of attention of other CSL sides.
“My players’ desire for victory is stronger than the desire for money. They are all eager to prove themselves in the best stage for Chinese soccer players,” said Park Tae-Ha, chief coach of Yabian Fude.
Australian international Tim Cahill believed that the expensive imports may impede the development of Chinese soccer.
“Does it help the Chinese? To a certain extent, no,” the 37-year-old veteran who joined CSL side Hangzhou Greentown ahead of 2016 season told Fox Sports. “When you sign players like this, everything in the final third (of the field) is up to us (international strikers), if we don’t deliver, it doesn’t happen.”