The demise of the Chinese Super League: Most clubs late paying wages, only one massive name remains

The demise of the Chinese Super League: Most clubs late paying wages, only one massive name remains

For several years, football players had a tremendous early retirement travel destination in the form of the Chinese Super League. As this long and lucrative trip east became more enticing and frequently travelled, the alarm sounded off in Europe as some non-veterans decided to go to the far east. Looking for a big paycheck sooner rather than later. Leading to notably Antonio Conte - at Chelsea at the time - warning other European clubs of this "threat" as he lost two important players, Ramires and Oscar, in 2016 and 2017, to Chinese clubs.

Many players with still a lot to offer at the top of the game decided to go to China and to earn a fortune playing far less competitive games. The most populous country in the world decided to improve football in their country and at the time seemed unstoppable with their capital.

Yet, in 2021, the demise of the Chinese Super League is unfolding.

Primarily illustrated by events in February, as four months after winning the title, Jiangsu Sunning was dissolved for financial reasons. A club that was founded in 1958 and became professional in 1994, long before the short-lived revolution of Chinese football.

Now, at the end of 2021, the situation is dark for football in China as 12 of the 16 clubs in the first division are late with payments towards players.

Another example of Chinese power in football diminishing was the summer Inter had, as after winning the Scudetto, Antonio Conte was faced with a message that no further investments could be made. The Chinese owners of Inter were cutting their losses, looking to earn a profit from top players, selling Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi.

Things get eerie when considering that Inter is owned by the same organization that owned the dissolved Jiangsu - Suning Holdings Group.

In China, massive commercial enterprises have been leading the new clubs, often getting their names in the name of the club as some European basketball clubs do. Yet, that is now forbidden by the Chinese government. Most clubs are owned by property development companies although many industries have their money in the game.

Chinese football boom has been built on debt and due to the harsh restrictions laid on the economy because of the covid-19 pandemic have ransacked the numbers. The strict restrictions still forbid the audience back in the stands and the country with the most people in the world doesn't have its clubs earning from tickets.

The situation in Chinese football is now dire, with the future of nearly every club up in airs. One of its symptoms - a mass exodus of its stars!

Not that long ago, two years back, higher-ups in Chinese Football Association boldly claimed that their league will be the sixth-best in the world. That is right behind England, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France.

Now the league has only one widely known top player in Oscar. Only two players valued at more than €10,000,000! While not that long ago, even young players like Yannick Ferreira Carrasco couldn't turn away the allure of the money placed in front of them.

Players remaining in the Chinese Super League in 2022

Now only Oscar remains aged 30 and pretty much forgotten by Europe and South America both. Marouane Fellaini is the second-most well-known player left in the league, aged 34 of course. Other more notable names still involved with the league are Juan Fernando Quintero, Elkeson, and Alan Kardec. Few other names would be recognised by fans across the Old Continent, maybe some more by Brazilian fans.

To illustrate how deeply the league has fallen, we take a look at where are some of the biggest stars and biggest earners of the Chinese Super League during its rise. Using our previous article about players with the highest wages in China for reference.

Alex Teixeira, once the golden boy of the league even though he wasn't the most reputable of the stars who arrived to China, left the country at the start of 2021 after playing 153 games in five years!

Fellow Brazilian Hulk was the second-biggest signing of the league, behind Oscar, in front of Teixeira, with €55,800,000 given for him. He left in February of 2021, going back to his home country.

One of the early adopters of the China transfer trend Ezequiel Lavezzi, who moved from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016, retired aged 35 in January of 2020. Graziano Pelle, one of the first players who left despite being in his prime, returned to Italy in the winter of 2021, playing for Parma until the summer and is now without a club.

As one of the symbols of the lunacy behind the CSL rise, Paulinho is also done with the league and is without a club currently. He left Spurs for €40,000,000, moved to China, then went back to Europe and was useful for Barcelona, before leaving for China again. Leaving it this summer and going to Al Ahli in Saudi Arabia.

The trend possibly devastated the career of one player particularly, that is Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco. As the Belgian moved to the outer realms of the footballing world after scoring in the Champions League final. He realized his mistake and returned to Europe and Atletico Madrid in the winter of 2020, yet he is now 28 and hasn't reached the level it was expected of him.

Stephan El Shaarawy had a similar career trajectory as he announced an exciting career only for it to stifle and then the winger decided a move to China was the right move for him in 2019. A year ago he returned to Roma.

One of the most underrated players - not by his teammates though - Mousa Dembele is still in China, although his contract expires at the start of 2022 and the 34-year-old is unlikely to remain.

Marek Hamsik was another high-profile signing made during the last surge of the CSL, in winter of 2019. The Napoli legend quickly returned to Europe, first at Goteborg in the spring of 2021, he then joined Trabzonspor during the summer.

One of the latest big moves to China was that of Marko Arnautovic as the powerful striker moved from West Ham in 2019 for €25,000,000. Yet he returned to Italy this summer and is playing for Bologna now.

Formerly mentioned Ramires left China in 2019, he then played for Palmeiras and is currently without a club. Illustrating that many players did have a tougher time finding good grounds when the Chinese deal expired.

Oscar and few others mentioned remain on long-term contracts. Yet those will be declared void too if the payments don’t come as is the current case. With many staff members not getting their salaries too, crippling that aspect of Chinese footballing rise as well. Considering many coaches went to the CSL as well. The quickly assembled pyramid is breaking at all points. European clubs will have a competitor fewer, players will have a retirement option fewer.

While China has faced an embarrassing and catastrophic failure in a major event. One that will echo far grander than similar mishaps in different industries might’ve, due to the popularity of the sport.

From the aims to become a football superpower, China as a whole is now looking uncharacteristically vulnerable. Certainly, not an omnipotent future force as some projections painted it to be.


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