When, around mid-2015, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan settled on a move to
Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG, I felt it was quite silly.
And, hey, don’t lie — you felt same, right?
Don’t be ashamed, though. It really did seem pretty dumb back then,
only that it probably doesn’t anymore. Gyan’s choice of China may
still not make any sense — to us, at least — but recent developments
may have the force to incline us to believe otherwise.
Gyan may have seemed crazy at the time, but when ‘too many’ — some of
the sport’s best, too — begin to act just as ‘crazily’ as they have
in the latest session of transfer activity, one begins to wonder if
it’s the watching world’s perspective that ought to be revised.
In the space of just one window, 2016’s first, Chinese clubs have
splashed €200m — the vast portion of which has been spent on some of
football’s biggest stars — to re-inforce ahead of the season that
starts in March: Fredy Guarin (Shanghai Shenhua), Gervinho (Hebei
China Fortune), Alex Teixeira (Jiangsu Suning), Ramires (Suning) and
Jackson Martinez (Guangzhou, Evergrande) have all ditched elite
European sides for Chinese Super League outifts. Transfers of the last
three players on the list above, in no particular order, broke the
Asian record, with the £38m shelled out for Teixeira now the region’s
all-time orgasmic high (mind, no Italian club has ever paid that much
for a footballer, Lazio’s £35m fee at the turn of the century for
Hernan Crespo coming closest).
Why the mass exodus, though?
We’re not left to guess.
The Chinese top-flight may not be truly outstanding per anyone’s
standards but, by most metrics only a footballer could fully
appreciate, it is quite comfortable. There is far less pressure, the
stadia aren’t bad, there exists the opportunity to work under some of
football’s more celebrated managers (World Cup winners included),
passion among fans is ever-increasng and, of course, the money is as
well. Clubs aren’t afraid to spend in a bid to compete with each other
and with the continent’s finest — a mission being accomplished so
well by Guangzhou Evergrande, Chinese football’s ‘model’ club — while
keeping in sharp focus the collective aim of making the CSL the
grandest, most attractive league outside Europe. With regard to that
aim, the Brazilian elite division and America’s MLS, both of which
have traditionally contested the aforementioned status, may have
already been overtaken [at least at a fiscal level], given that the
former has long been turned into a feeder league of sorts for the CSL,
while the latter is fast fading into a far less attractive option
because of its regulatory wage-capping policy which limits how much
cash players receive. China may yet be faraway from appearing at a
second Fifa World Cup (their first came 14 years ago) or even winning
one, as is the dream of Xi Jinping, the country’s Manchester
United-loving head-of-state, but sealing Club World Cup triumph, at
this rate, isn’t a goal too remote.
More ridiculous than the figures Chinese clubs are throwing about,
though, is the scope of recruitment. Once, all China could get were
football stars who had passed their prime and were primarily only
interested in securing a good pension — the Didier Drogbas, Nicolas
Anelkas, et al.
Not anymore, though.
Ramires and Gervinho — still integral at their respective European
clubs prior to departing the Old Continent — are presently no older
than 28. Martinez may have struggled in his half-season for Atletico
Madrid this term, but his value hadn’t depreciated very much, and his
fellow South American, Teixeira, could easily have joined Liverpool
just before settling on China. From the old and weary to the young and
ambitious, football’s brightest and best are flooding to the Far East
and, as Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger concedes, China’s unrestrained
muscle-flexing could eventually spell doom for the rest of the globe,
even mighty England where he works.
“Yes, of course, the Premier League should be worried,” Wenger warns,
“because China looks to have the financial power to move a whole
league of Europe to China. We are long enough in this job to know that
it’s just a consequence of economic power and they have that.”
And Europe, particularly England, ought to be frightened alright.
Chinese spending this winter has been almost £20m more than the
Premier League’s (which is in itself more than the expenditure of the
Bundesliga, Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1 combined). And with the
market in China not closing till February 26, expect that figure to
rise even more. In subsequent windows, more big names from mainstream
football circles could hitch a ride on the China-bound bandwagon. An
unsettled, want-away Yaya Toure in view of the imminent summer arrival
of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City would serve quite a few Chinese
big spenders their cue, Chelsea star Oscar reportedly rejected an
absurd bid from extravagant Suning, Fernando Torres could also soon be
on his way, too, according to Spanish newspaper Marca, while John
Terry’s contract situation at Stamford Bridge would also pique
interest in the Middle Kingdom.
And should England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney also end
up joining SIPG as Gyan’s strike partner in confirmation of rife
speculation, the Ghanaian — in a league that already has Demba Ba,
Tim Cahill and Paulinho starring — would surely have the last laugh.