Chinese football’s Silk Road has spun out of control, says sports ministry

By Andrew Warshaw

January 6 – In an unprecedented move that could prove a watershed moment and potentially change the face of football’s global transfer landscape, Chinese authorities have rebuked the country’s leading clubs for “burning money” in the relentless race to enlist top foreign stars to the detriment of local talent.

Following the two latest eye-watering signings of Oscar and Carlos Tevez – the former to Shanghai SIPG for €60 million, the latter to Shanghai Shenhua on a reported world-record  salary of €38 million per season –  China’s top sports administrator has vowed to cap spending after accusing Chinese Super League teams of shelling out excessive wages.

The General Administration of Sport said on its website that action had to be taken against “irrational investment” and that the government would “regulate and restrain high-priced signings and make reasonable restrictions on players’ high incomes.”

In recent months the CSL has eclipsed the English Premier League, and every other league for that matter, in transfer spending. The transfers of Oscar and Tevez followed the likes of Italian striker Graziano Pelle, Brazilian striker Hulk, Colombian Jackson Martinez and Belgian international Alex Witsel, who were all lured to China by monstrous deals. Witsel even turned down a move to Juventus, saying he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Top coaches such as Manuel Pellegrini (Hebei Fortune), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Guangzhou Evergrande), Andre Villas-Boas (Shanghai SIPG) and Sven Goran Eriksson (Shenzhen FC) – all of whom have worked in England at some point – have also been wooed by China’s affluence which has also worked the other way with Chinese investors now enjoying controlling stakes in a number of European teams, most notably Italy’s AC Milan.

The seemingly limitless cash splashed out by Chinese clubs has much to do with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s avowed hope of the country becoming a footballing super power and one day hosting and even winning the World Cup though in the short term China is more focused on improving its world ranking of 82 – just below the tiny Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis.

Yet the unrestrained spending spree has drawn criticism from fans and raised questions over whether the massive sums would be better spent on developing the sport at home.

Without providing figures, the General Administration of Sport, the state agency that controls Chinese sport, said the government would in future consider measures such as using money from clubs that spend excessively to support youth development programmes.

The unnamed spokesman described the current trend as a “a grave phenomenon of clubs burning money salaries that are too high for foreign players, not attaching importance to youth training, and only emphasising short-term achievements and neglecting long-term development.”

The Administration would “strengthen examination and supervision of clubs’ financial affairs, progressively control clubs’ expenditures on first team players and ensure favourable financial conditions.”

“We are going to regulate, curb the expensive purchases of foreign players, and limit in a reasonable manner the high incomes of the players. A cap on players’ salaries and transfer fees will be established to control irrational investment.”

He then added ominously: “We will remove the seriously insolvent clubs from the professional league.”

The latest move comes just a couple of months before the new CSL season begins and follows the recent decision by the Chinese Football Association to reduce the number of overseas players permitted per club from five to four.

Several top coaches in the west have warned that the exodus of superstars to China risks seriously destabilising the transfer market. Only last month, Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent Jorge Mendes said Real Madrid’s Portuguese galactico had turned down a  €100 million annual salary as part of a staggering €300 million transfer to an unnamed Chinese club.

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