The highest-paid footballers in China

Josip Brajkovic
Josip Brajkovic
Published: 16.12.2019.

The highest-paid footballers in China

Professional footballers earn a living that few, if any, professions of the world can match. The weekly wages of men who kick around a ball dwarf those of doctors, teachers, managers and such, but nowhere is that difference greater than in China. In the most populous country in the world, professional players earn 160 times as much as regular citizens! The average yearly salary of a player in the league is around €1,000,000. Wages of players in the Chinese Superleague is the reason so many of Europe's top players decided to exchange acclaim for funds.

Chinese football was truly a sleeping giant that awaken in 2016 as money started piling in as the state believed the most popular sport in the world was the stage through which to display its economic might. The money didn't stay long on the bank accounts of Chinese Super League clubs though, it was promptly invested across Europe and Brazil to get the known names who were supposed to attract fans and quickly improve the level of play.

Since 2016 some of the players that were regarded as elite have left Europe or big South American clubs and moved to China despite the interest of notable teams from the Old Continent.

The Highest Paid Footballers in China 2019

Click to read the update: The Highest Paid Footballers in China 2020

Alex Teixeira - €210,000

The first major signing by the clubs from the CPL as Shakthar Donetsk first refused a €32,000,000 offer from Liverpool, but accepted the €50,000,000 deal from Jiangsu Suning in February of 2016. The Brazilian who never played for his national team's A selection then became the tenth highest-paid player. The 29-year-old is reportedly earning around €210,000 per week in China nowadays and has played 126 games for his club, scoring 60 times.

Ezequiel Lavezzi - €290,000

If Teixeira was the first major signing in the new era of Chinese spending, Lavezzi was the first major star, as the Brazilian didn't play in the top five European leagues. The Argentinian’s move was truly a tectonic change as the winger played for the richest club on the continent - Paris Saint-Germain, winning titles, working with the best of the best, but still couldn't say "no" to the Renminbis - the Chinese currency. After earning €290,000 weekly for several seasons from Hebei China Fortune, Lavezzi recently decided to retire, at 34-years of age. The luxury of earning in China.

Hulk - €320,000

Another one of the early trend adopters, Hulk was certainly the biggest star in the footballing world that played in the east. At least the east Europeans were used to - Russia. Zenit St. Petersburg's first star moved to Shanghai SIPG in the summer of 2016 for what is now the second-most expensive transfer in the history of China, earning the Russians €55,800,000.

The powerful Brazilian played in Japan at the start of his career and unlike many others, didn't have much of a problem acclimating to the new culture scoring 68 goals in 121 matches. The €320,000 per week helped too.

Graziano Pelle - €290,000

Playing for his country of Italy, scoring 23 goals in two Premier League seasons, and the interests of many major European clubs didn't keep Graziano Pelle on the continent. When Shandong Luneng called in 2016 the tall striker quickly decided to stop the pursuit of famed trophies and settled for scoring in the Chinese Super League. He did so 42 times in 86 matches. The 34-year-old is earning €290,000 per week reportedly.

Paulinho - €270,000

The biggest success story of both the Chinese Super League and of the players who went there. Paulinho left Tottenham in the summer of 2015, but not as a major star, and for "only" €14,000,000. Even though the accepted narrative is that moving to China makes a player an ex-pro in a way, the Brazilian managed to earn a way back to Europe and a bigger club - Barcelona.

Guangzhou Evergrande sold him for €40,000,000 and Paulinho became one of Barca's key players in the domestic double-winning season. He returned to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2018, first on a loan, then as a full-fledged player after Barca earned two million more than they've have paid for him. Paulinho couldn't say no to earning €270,000 per week.

Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco - €210,000

Scoring a goal in the Champions League final would've allowed Carrasco to pick a club in which he wanted to play. But the Belgian choose Dalian Yifang in 2018 and after earning €210,000 per week for two seasons, he is itching for a return to Europe.

At 26 years of age there is no doubt there will be suitors for the technically gifted and pacy winger, but whether teams would be able to match his monetary appetite remains to be seen this January. 

Oscar - €400,000

The highest-paid player in the Chinese Super League currently with earnings of €400,000 at Shanghai SIPG, Oscar was the most surprising departure from Europe. Having won two Premier League titles with Chelsea and being young of age, his move for €60,000,000 is the highest transfer in the history of China.

The 28-year-old Oscar is now the ninth most paid footballer overall but interestingly enough, not the most paid player outside of Europe as Barcelona legend Andres Iniesta is earning €30,000,000.

Stephan El Shaarawy - €290,000

The latest surprising edition to the legion of players from Europe is Stephan El Shaaraway who joined Shanghai Shenhua this summer. The Pharaoh was introduced to professional football at an early age and displayed bags of potential across several major clubs like Milan, Roma, and Monaco.

But whether the scare of recurring injuries or just greed, El Shaarawy decided to stop competing with the best and moved to the east while entering his prime at 27 years of age.

Moussa Dembele - €132,000

Reports from China often state that foreign players tend to cacoon themselves in their hotels and just work out their contract. This often quickly leads to busts-ups, as Carlos Tevez had for a while when he was the highest-paid player in the world, earning around €600,000 per week. But ex-Tottenham midfielder Moussa Dembele isn't one of them. The Belgian is enjoying his life both in and off the pitch as he is enjoying learning about a new culture.

And if anyone can make the Chinese fans fall in love with football more is the elegant 32-year-old midfielder.

Marek Hamsik - €172,000

A level of disappointment exists when a top player from Europe moves to China in his prime. The neutrals were most saddened by the long voyage of Marek Hamsik, a Napoli legend as he joined Dalian Yifang in 2019. The Slovakian midfielder was seen as an elite player ready to make the jump to a world-class club at any time, but after passing 31 years, he decided to cash in on his talents.

His salary is €9,000,000 per year plus bonuses, but the Slovak might regret not testing himself outside of Italy and San Paolo.

Question rise which star player will be the next to go east in search of a thicker wallet. This summer, Gareth Bale was near Santiago Bernabeu's exit door, and if the Welshman does make the jump in one of the two following transfer windows, he will surely become the most paid footballer playing in China. And in the world.



The highest-paid footballers in China 2020 update 

Since the COVID-19 virus did originate in China, there might be some hesitancy of moving to the far east when it comes to footballers due to the heavy restrictions faced in that country. As the following new inclusions on the list can testify, the foreign contingent is already dominated by Brazilians, so the European players might decide on the far move even less.

Marko Arnautovic - €270,000

A clear indicator of the insanity of Chinese spending power for wages. At West Ham, Marko Arnautovic's last European club, the striker was already earning €134,000 per week but that sum was doubled with his move to Shangai SIPG. After completing his €25,000,000 transfer and getting that €270,000 per week deal, Arnautovic basically clocked out, as he admits himself.

The Austrian striker recently came clean and said he underestimated the league, that he drank carbonated drinks, ate out of order, and didn't get his sleeping rhythm straight for three weeks. Still, in 25 games for the club he scored 15 times and assisted four goals.

Talisca - €362,000

While the sum doesn't look that great compared to other players on this list but with all due respect, neither does Talisca's quality. A known name because of his status as a prospect during his time at Benfica, Talisca didn't do too much to justify the faith placed in him. Although 20 goals in 78 games for the Portuguese club doesn't look too bad it was followed by only four assists, a diminutive effort for an attacking midfielder.

It was his stint at Besiktas on a loan that turned Guangzhou Evergrande onto the Brazilian and the Chinese side first secured a loan, then purchased the 26-year-old for €19,200,000. But one thing is certain, nowhere in Europe would Talisca sniff that kind of money.

Renato Augusto - €162,000

With 32 caps in the Brazil national team, Renato Augusto is one of China's prize footballing possesions. As evident by the firm grip they have on him as the 32-year-old has been in the far east since 2016 without a desire to move. Representing Beijing Guoan since 2016, playing in 135 games, scoring 36 times and recording three assists more, Augusto has earned his keep.

The former Bayer Leverkusen man returned to Corinthians first after Europe but the call of China was far too enticing to stay in the homeland.

Marouane Fellaini - €225,000

A man who is made for an active retirement in China, as the tall man will be able to dominate physically as he did so in Europe during his prime. At 32 years of age, Marouane Fellaini is far from old scrap metal but his style of play did take his toll. Due to Manchester United having more pressing matters in the transfer department, his move from Old Trafford went somewhat under the radar.

Especially for a player with such a mammoth salary as Shandong Luneng didn't save a penny on the powerful Belgian. While he was popular, he was never going to be one of the most paid players in Europe but he is one of the highest-paid athletes in China now.

Eran Zahavi - €163,000

While being a staple for Isreal with 52 caps, the 33-year-old Eran Zahavi never made much of a name for himself in Europe. Mostly playing in his home country, with a brief excursion to Palermo. But his move to Guangzhou R&F has paid out dividends for the player and the club both.

Usually operating behind the primary striker, Zahavi managed 103 goals and 31 assists in 117 games for the Chinese club. He still has one year left on his contract and the highest-paid Israeli sports professional ever is likely to finish his career in China.

Miranda - €125,000

While some of these players jumped the ship when they went to the retirement league, Miranda paid his dues to become one of the highest-paid footballers in China. Aged 35 but his four years at the frontline of Atletico Madrid could possibly count double, Miranda didn't wait up for his partner Diego Godin at Inter.

In 2019 the Brazilian centre-back with 58 national caps moved to Jiangsu Suning where he signed a three-year deal worth almost €20,000,000 total.

Cedric Bakambu - €346,000

Costing his club Beijing Sinobo Guoan €18,000,000 per season during their three-year deal, Bakambu is one of the rare players who has flourished after moving at a young age. With 64 games played since his €40,000,000 move from Villarreal in the beginning of 2018, Bakambu scored 47 times and assisted to 16 goals. For comparison, he needs 105 games to reach 47 goals at the Spanish club.

The 29-year-old's fee was far greater than the mentioned sum by some reports, even reaching €73,000,000 making the DR Congo representative the most expensive African player at the time.

Eder - €260,000

The Italian-Brazilian Eder, not the Portuguese one, has left Inter in 2018 and doubled his salary despite not leaving much of a mark at Guiseppe Meazza. The attacking midfielder moved for a symbolic sum of €5,000,000 as the company that owns inter also runs Jiangsu Suning, his destination.

For Jiangsu, Eder has played in 50 matches, scoring 29 times and assisting on 15 goals. At Inter, in 86 matches, he managed only 14 goals and eight assists. A statistical explanation of how players decide to move down in ranks to move up in tax brackets.

Ricardo Goulart - €174,000

Definitely the most hyped up talent once upon a time that ended up in China. Goulart managed to get one cap for his country of Brazil but never made it to Europe. Instead, the attacking midfielder changed clubs in his home country before moving to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015 as an early adopter.

His stock didn't fall too much with a move to China as he fully dominated with 103 goals and 53 assists in 157 games for the club. He did get homesick and moved on a loan to Palmeiras last year before getting loaned out to Hebei China Fortune. Goulart even became a Chinese citizen last year.

Elkeson - €271,000

If Goulart was an early adopter, Elkeson is a pioneer. Moving to China in 2013 from Botafogo, only his second club after Vitoria, the forward stayed in the country for seven years running. His first club being Guangzhou Evergrande, where he scored 76 goals in 111 matches. During his first stint that is.

Shanghai SIPG utilized one of the rare in-league purchase of foreigners and brought the Brazilian to their side for three and a half seasons. But Guangzhou realized its mistake and bought him back in 2019. Overall, Elkeson scored 183 goals playing in China, with over 430 games in front of the biggest audience in the world. One of the rare people who can say that they earned the right to be one of the highest-paid footballers in China, in China.

Odion Ighalo would also make the list of the highest-paid footballers in China but he is currently at Manchester United until the end of January 2021.


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