A Beginner's Guide To The Chinese Super League
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Not too long ago, the whole world was fixated as a handful of Chinese Super League clubs raided European teams for talent during the January transfer window. These weren't just over-the-hill players looking for one last paycheck. These were world-class players in their prime.
The likes of Jackson Martinez (although he apparently already wants to leave), Alex Teixeira and Ramires all made big money moves for a combined total of £90 million. Given the January transfer window's usual lack of excitement, this was a big deal.
Any idea that this was just a flash in the pan has now been completely ruled out, as Chinese clubs have carried on that trend into the summer. Brazilian icon Hulk made a massive switch from Zenit St. Petersburg to Shanghai SIPG for €55 million, and that was closely followed by the big money transfers of Southampton's Graziano Pelle and Newcastle's Papis Cisse to Shandong Luneng Taishan.
It's been reported that Hulk could make up to £320,000 a week, while Pelle is set to become the highest-paid Italian ever on £260,000 per week. According to Tancredi Palmeri, four of the top-ten best paid players in the world now play in China. Certainly, Chinese football is here to stay.
Top10 best paid
1 CR7 21m€
2 Messi 20
3 Hulk 20
4 Neymar 19
5 Ibra 16
6 Pellé 16
7 TMüller 13.5
9 JacksonM. 12.5
10 TSilva 12— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) July 11, 2016
So, with that in mind, we've put together a little introductory package, if you will, of everything you need to know about the Chinese Super League. Enjoy!
Name: The full name of the competition is the Ping An Chinese Football Association Super League. It was known as the Chinese Football Association Jia-A League until 2004, when it was rebranded.
Teams: Upon the inception of the CSL, there were 12 teams that took part. However, it has now expanded to 16 teams. Two are relegated each year, and two are promoted from the second tier (the somewhat confusingly named Jia League). The top-three teams qualify for the AFC Champions League.
Season: The season generally runs from February/March to November/December. Each team plays each other twice, for a total of 240 games.
Foreign Players: Each team is allowed four foreign players, with the possibility of a fifth provided that the player comes from a country within the AFC (Japan, Korea, Australia, Afghanistan, etc.). Only four foreign players may be on the pitch at any point, and all goalkeepers must be Chinese.
Most Successful Teams: Technically, a team named Dalian Shide (previously named Dalian Wanda) is the record champion of China, having won the Jia-A League/Super League a total of eight times. However, mismanagement behind the scenes and a failed merger led to the club becoming defunct in 2013.
These days, Guangzhou Evergrande are the team to beat, having won the league for five years running— once under former Brazil boss Felipe Luis Scolari, three times under Marcelo Lippi and once under Korean coach Lee Jang-Soo. Shandong Luneng are the next successful team with three league titles.
What Stars Currently Play In China?: We've already mentioned Martinez, Teixeira, Ramires, Hulk, Pelle and Cisse, but there are many other stars currently plying their trade in China. Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande); Tim Cahill (Hangzhou Greentown); Fredy Guarin (Shanghai Greenland Shenhua); Ezequiel Lavezzi (Hebei China Fortune); Demba Ba (Shanghai Greenland Shenhua); Gervinho (Hebei China Fortune); Stephane M'bia (Hebei China Fortune) and Burak Yilmaz (Beijing Guoan) are just a few of the big names in China at the moment, with many more sure to come.
Football in China has received a big boost thanks in part to president Xi Jinping's national initiative to boost Chinese soccer on the world stage. The Chinese government has pledged that 20,000 football-themed schools will be in operation by 2020, per CNN, and football is a mandatory part of the school curriculum. This push is exemplified by the Evergrande Football School, which is a $185 million youth soccer facility in Qingyuan, Guangdong.
Such a heavy investment in domestic grassroots soccer, combined with the continued import of foreign stars, shows that China are fully committed to becoming a global soccer powerhouse. Whether they can maintain such expenditure, and whether the league can attract global interest, remains to be seen.
Follow me on Twitter @J_Hansen_89