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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collins


Updated: Jun 7, 2019

In recent weeks, four top football players have completed major transfers from European clubs to play in the Chinese Super League following in the footsteps of Anelka, Drogba and Cahill.

To most professional footballers, China is a mystery. There is little coverage of the CSL in Europe therefore the impression we are left with is that football does not play a major part in the lives of most Chinese people. Why then have we seen a sudden interest from footballers wanting to head East? The question many football fans are asking is, are they going for the money or the chance to inspire 1.4 billion people in a nation where international sport is more popular than China’s own sports leagues.

And it’s not just the players. The influx of high profile foreign managers in the past 2 seasons has put the CSL in the spotlight on a global scale with some of the biggest names in football taking up management posts: Sven-Göran Eriksson, Marcello Lippi, Fabio Cannavaro and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

I’ve watched football develop in this country over the past 4 years and have have seen first hand the effect a foreign football star can have on the fans here. I have identified 4 major reasons for a player to move to China:


The idea of building football in the largest country in the world is an appealing one as David Beckham found out in 2013 when he became an official ambassador for the CSL. With it came the responsibility of driving the awareness abroad of the increasing strength of Chinese football.


Chinese fans are like no other. Passionate bordering on ‘crazy’ when their team is winning, and very quick to criticize when the score goes against them. Average attendance at Chinese Super League reached over 23,000 fans, meaning that desolate stadiums are now a thing of the past.


Didier Drogba moved to Shanghai Shenhua in the summer of 2012 to earn a reported $300,000 (£193,000) per week. Despite the player insisting that the move was about a new experience, the money on offer was clearly a strong motive. Meanwhile, Asamoah Gyan, the CSL’s latest import, has recently signed a deal with SIPG which will make him one of the world’s highest paid footballers.


Lesser known players from Europe and South America have a huge opportunity to impress in the Chinese Super League. Brazilian striker Aloisio and Swedish striker Tobias Hysen are currently at the top of the goalscoring charts and have become legends for their respective teams.

We are now increasingly seeing younger players in the prime of their career joining the Chinese Super League, with Demba Ba, Momo Sissoko, Paulinho and Asamoah Gyan the most recent cases, proving that China is not the final stop for players coming to the end of their careers. With China’s recent football reform policy set to kick in, we can expect to see a major influx of foreign talent continue to arrive in China in the coming years.

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