With the transfer window open this month for most teams around the world, the movement of players from one league to another has been running at an accelerated pace. And one of the more intriguing forces in the market has been the Chinese Super League, which has been splashing the cash on big-name foreign signings as it looks to build a worldwide identity.
English Premier League leaders Chelsea FC have been dealing with persistent rumors that star striker Diego Costa might have been approached to leave for China for ridiculous amounts of money, having already lost attacking midfeider Oscar last month to the CSL. Earlier this month Argentina forward Carlos Tevez agreed to a contract believed to be the most lucrative in world football when he signed with Shanghi Shenhua.
Even Major League Soccer is not immune to China’s growing influence. Prior to last season, Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins jumped the Pacific for big money, and this off-season, expansion side Atlanta United reportedly lost out on Designated Player target Paraguayan striker Oscar Romero. The possible threat of the CSL to MLS was recently discounted by commissioner Don Garber, but that slowed some from believing China could disrupt the growth of the league.
But a new policy adopted by the CSL this week may avail the fears of worldwide player salary instability, and MLS may very well be able to capitalize in the wake of the rule’s institution. Essentially, the Chinese Football Association, the governing body for soccer in China, announced that teams would only be able to field a maximum of three non-Chinese players per match, effective for the start of the 2017 season in March.
While many federations have adopted so protections for their citizens in their domestic leagues — MLS is no exception to this policy — the rule change so close to their season openers puts many Chinese teams in a potential quandary: What to do with those extra high-priced foreign-born players on their rosters?
Sure, the new rule still allows for five foreign born players on the roster, but if only three make the field, two possibly high-cost players would be left to watch from the sidelines. Fans pay to watch games, not the benches. CSL teams that have maxed out their five signings on big-money contracts no longer have the incentive to keep those players in surplus, and MLS, among many leagues could stand to benefit.
The San Jose Earthquakes, for example, are still reportedly in the mix to bring Club America striker Darwin Quintero to the Bay Area with a multi-million dollar bid. So far, those negotiations seem to have stalled, and the Quakes might want to consider a look across the ocean at the attacking talent in the CSL that might be available to buy. Could San Jose make a play for Carlos Tevez or Oscar? Unlikely, but there are other targets that could be enticing. Let’s run down the list of possibilities.
Hulk — Brazilian forward
The aptly named Hulk, a 5’11” forward that is every ounce a wrecking ball against opposing defenses, moved to China ahead of last season for a record transfer fee of over $70M. Injuries limited his effectiveness for Shanghi SIPG, but the Brazilian international returned to the field to close out the 2016 season with 4 goals in 7 appearances. The chances of a move to MLS and the Earthquakes would be very slim given the transfer fee Shanghi would demand for the 30-year-old, but imagine the Alan Gordon/Steven Lenhart effect he could have on the field for San Jose.
Obafemi Martins — Nigerian forward
Martins, who is very familiar to MLS fans from his successful seasons with the Seattle Sounders, would be the perfect forward for the Quakes. His 40 goals in three years in the Emerald City, including the 2014 MLS Goal of the Year (scored against the Earthquakes), speak volumes about his productivity. He was the peanut butter to Clint Dempsey’s jelly for the Sounders — he could be the same for San Jose striker Chris Wondolowski.
Fredy Montero — Colombian forward
Another former Sounders standout, Montero was electric for Seattle upon his debut in 2009, scoring 47 goals over parts of five seasons for the perennial postseason participants. He remains a fan favorite in Seattle, and some recent tweets from the forward have given supporters hope that he might return to their club. But if a move back to MLS is in the cards, Montero would be subject to the Allocation order, and the Earthquakes currently sit at #5, well above the defending MLS Cup champions Sounders. Signing Montero would certainly stoke the fires on the Quakes rivalry with the champs, but simply adding the 29-year-old to San Jose’s attack would be a good bit of business.
Ramires -- Brazilian midfielder
Known best for his time at Chelsea, Ramires made the jump to China a year ago and has a relatively successful time of it at Jiangsu Suning, netting 4 times last season in his playmaker role. Targeting Ramires would be a bold move by the Quakes, but the 29-year-old international is in the prime of his career, and he would transform not just the team, but the league, in ways San Jose supporters can only dream of.
What do you think of the potential Chinese Super League fire sale? Should the Earthquakes make a bid on one of the many superstars currently on the books across the Pacific?