Some of football’s biggest names remain linked with a move to China but a 100 percent tax on transfer fees looks likely to hit spending when the country’s transfer window opens on Monday.
Wayne Rooney, Diego Costa and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are among the stars rumoured to be considering big-money moves to the Chinese Super League (CSL), which has been smashing spending records in recent seasons.
Brazilian international Oscar moved to Shanghai SIPG for 60 million euros ($67 million) as Chinese clubs splashed an unprecedentd 388 million euros the January-February window.
Argentine striker Carlos Tevez also arrived on huge wages to instantly become among the best-paid players in world football.
But in May the Chinese Football Association (CFA) stepped in to limit the largesse, effectively slapping a 100 percent tax on transfers for loss-making clubs, with the proceeds going to a government-run fund.
In each game next year, clubs will have to field as many Chinese under-23 players as foreigners, who are already capped at three maximum.
And this week, the CFA also proposed amendments to its previous rules to stop clubs finding inventive ways to skirt the rules.
Chinese football experts say the result is that clubs will trim spend and revert to looking at players at the end of their careers — like Rooney.
“What I think you are going to see is a lot more of the likes of — and I think this is the one most likely to happen — Wayne Rooney coming to China,” said Andy Strong, sports client manager at the sports marketing and investment company Mailman in Shanghai.
“Fabio Capello has just pitched up at Jiangsu Suning, Rooney will be available on a free and he has that huge international draw and prestige of his name.
“So the transfers are going to shift back more towards that end-of-career type player.”
Strong said that, conversely, a spin-off of the new rules could be that Chinese clubs have to improve their scouting systems to snare better-value talent, rather than merely shelling out for stellar names.
But he added that such is the cash in the Chinese game, one or two clubs might be prepared to pay the new tax to snap up a big-name foreign player in his prime.
“I would not be surprised if one or two clubs were prepared to take a hit (financially),” he said.
– ‘Cooling effect’ –
Strong and others also warned that while the CFA’s intentions to grow youth football were admirable, the CSL could suffer in terms of its quality and brand.
“The new rules have created some uncertainty with CSL clubs about exactly what they can do with foreign players,” Ji Zhe, director at London-based sports marketing firm Red Lantern, said.
“Whilst this uncertainty persists I think there will be a cooling effect on the amount we see spent.”
Mark Dreyer, founder of China Sports Insider, which specialises in sports business news and analysis in the country, agrees.
Any foreign players coming to China are likely to be free transfers, bargains or “unknowns”, he said.
“In the past clubs felt like they had a green light to spend because they had the blessing of the government and the president, ‘we are developing football’, all part of this over-arching football dream,” he said.
“The message now from the top levels is very clear: the spending in the wrong areas no longer has the green light.”