Chinese Transfers: Just Money, or is Chinese Football On the Rise?

Over the past 12 months we’ve seen some of European football’s top talents head east—not for vacation, but for footballing reasons would you know it.

Nicolas Anelka started the trend by moving from Chelsea to Shanghai Shenhua in January 2012, while former team mate Didier Drogba has since followed suit.

Marlon Harewood also dabbled, while Seydou Keita’s journey to the east is about to begin. Lucas Barrios, formerly of Borussia Dortmund, has moved to Guangzhou Evergrande this summer to end a faltering spell in the Bundesliga.

Seydou Keita heads to China
photo credit: The Sun


Seen this before?

This exodus is reminiscent of the Middle Eastern one we’ve seen over the past five seasons or so.

At one point it seemed the Uzbek league, the Saudi Premier League and the Qatar Stars League were attracting good players with enough regularity to become forces in world football. Managers, too, would flock to the middle east and Diego Maradona, although recently sacked by Al-Wasl, is a prime example of this.

Thiago Neves, Kader Keita, Afonso Alves and Aruna Dindane are just some of the names plying their trade in the Middle East, earning absurd amounts of money to play against poor defences in the searing heat.

Fabio Cannavaro is one of the most high-profile names to have ventured over to Asia to play, having swapped Juventus for Al-Ahli after the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Unfortunately for fans in that region of the world, not even coaxing these players with huge financial promises has made their leagues substantially better to watch, to play in or to cover.


Why didn’t it work?

There weren’t many who opted to move to the Middle East in the prime of their careers. International recognition is hard to come by when you play in a lower standard of league, so any player looking to improve their career prospects or enhance their international opportunities steered well clear of those sands.

Up-and-coming players want recognition, and you’re not going to find that playing for Qatar SC. Instead, Middle-Eastern clubs could only attract those who were satisfied with what they’d achieved in their careers, and so only moved for monetary gain.

That mostly meant older players opted to go, or players who coming off a particularly bad season. Take Afonso Alves as an example of a player who, having spectacularly flopped at Middlesbrough, sloped off Al Sadd and Al Rayyan.

Mamadou Niang is another who, on the wrong side of 30 and searching for money, swapped Fenerbahce for Al Sadd.

Drogba’s off to Shanghai
photo credit: The Telegraph


Is China any different then?

It’s difficult to judge Chinese football on the whole as yet. There has been a mini exodus to the far east but nothing major so far, but one thing we do know is they’ve got the cash to back their claims.

There appear to be several Chinese tycoons intent on attracting huge stars from European football, and they’re willing to pay through the nose to do so.

This region of the world was fast improving it’s football in a state removed from money though, as the J-League boasts a recent record of producing some wonderful players.

Shinji Kagawa and Hiroshi Kiyotake are two of Japan’s recent success stories, with the former securing a big move to Manchester United and the latter arriving at FC Nuremburg this summer.

While that’s not China, there is no reason why an area of the world so football-crazy can’t catch up with the very best. China is an attractive place to live-more attractive than some of the Middle-Eastern destinations players ended up in-and boasts a booming economy and population.

The country is home to some wonderful facilities and has all the ingredients to become go-to footballing nation. It has the passion to succeed and a sufficient interest in the game to make a fist of it.

The Chinese Super League attracted an average crowd of 17,651 for the 2011 season. That’s quadruple the 2011 Qatari Stars League figures of 4,211, and before Nicolas Anelka even moved to Shanghai.



China has massive potential, but most not succumb to the same pitfalls those in Qatar, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia did.

The interest is there, the money is there and nation wants more-the only thing they need to do now is use the excellent facilities at their disposal to work on their domestic game too.

Sides such as Al-Gharafa Sports Club rely exclusively on rich, foreign imports like Didane and Diego Tardelli, then place average, untrained and neglected players around them from the home nation.

The Chinese must nurture their own talent and make sure they’re fielding quality Chinese players alongside quality European imports. This is the only way to maintain a league’s strength when it’s trying to make a name for itself, as otherwise the interest dries up just as soon as the dollar does.

2 comments for “Chinese Transfers: Just Money, or is Chinese Football On the Rise?

  1. Daniel
    July 12, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    China is missing two things money can’t buy: Tradition and Glory. Kids all over the world dream of playing in La Liga, the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A, ect and playing in the Champions League. That kind of glory and prestige is just much to pass up and China can’t replicate it. The major European leagues and teams will be able to pay players in the same ballpark as China so I just can’t see top level talent going.

    That said there is no reason why China can not become on of the best leagues not in Europe. It should join the likes of the top leagues in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, USA, Japan, and Korea as being home to some of the best talent from their continents. They just need to spend more time on youth development and smart scouting and not by buying a bunch of over the hill players on their last leg or looking for one last big pay day.

    • July 13, 2012 at 4:35 am

      Hi Daniel. It’s a good point you make about the heritage and prestige the European leagues carry.

      I think China looking to match Europe right now is highly ambitious and unrealistic, but I like your idea about them looking to secure status alongside the Brazilian Serie et al.

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