Madrid - Gareth Bale's £1-million-a-week move from Real Madrid collapsed but
Chinese football has re-emerged as a force in the global transfer market
despite measures to rein in spending.
Marko Arnautovic, Salomon Rondon and Stephan El Shaarawy all landed
in the Chinese Super League (CSL) during China's summer transfer window,
which closed on Wednesday.
There was a flurry of domestic transfers too, while Champions
League-winning coach Rafael Benitez also arrived, taking over at Dalian
Nearly €100 million was spent in transfer fees by CSL clubs,
compared to the record €128 million splurged in the summer of 2016,
said the respected Oriental Sports Daily.
The Austrian forward Arnautovic was the biggest mover, swapping West
Ham United for CSL champions Shanghai SIPG for €25 million.
But it was Bale's proposed transfer to Jiangsu Suning which really
made headlines and renewed fears about Chinese clubs distorting the
transfer market with wages the rest cannot match.
The 30-year-old forward was all set to sign a handsomely paid
three-year contract with Jiangsu, but Real pulled the plug at the last
moment because of wrangling over the fee, a source told AFP.
Two years ago, after a series of record deals, the Chinese Football
Association - at the behest of the government - slapped a 100%
tax on the transfers of incoming foreign players.
The prohibitive move worked: in the summer of 2017 the highest-profile arrival was Anthony Modeste on loan from Cologne.
The CFA brought in more cooling measures at the start of this year,
including a cap on the wages of Chinese players and a limit on bonuses.
Clubs were also told that their annual expenditure could not exceed
1.2 billion yuan ($174 million, 158 million euros) in 2019, which will
decline to 900 million in 2021.
But in light of the latest transfer dealings, those measures were now
"a pile of waste paper", said a commentary in the Oriental Sports
Government's 'hidden hand'
Harry Belford Spencer,
co-founder of First Pick Group, a Shanghai-based sports advisory
company, said that the swingeing tax slapped on in 2017 has deterred CSL
clubs from shelling out huge transfer fees.
Oscar's 60-million-euro move from Chelsea to Shanghai SIPG in January 2017 remains a Chinese - and Asian - transfer record.
"The dust has settled and teams are now more savvy about their recruitment," he said.
But the Shanghai-based Briton, who is involved in the Chinese
transfer scene, said that CSL teams continue to offer wages that are two
or even three times what players earn in Europe.
That is, however, different from the heady days of a few years ago, when salaries could be four of five times higher, he said.
William Bi, a Beijing-based sports expert, said this transfer window was the "hottest" since the winter of 2016.
"The football spending spree from the East seems to have resumed," he
said, agreeing with Spencer that Chinese clubs were now smarter in the
market, buying players for footballing reasons rather than show and
shunning has-beens looking for a final payday.
Bi believes that Chinese football will attract more highly rated
coaches like Benitez because there is no transfer fee and clubs can
justify the outlay on wages to the government, because having top-notch
managers helps Chinese football.
"For financial reasons, it is still far away from claiming China is a big spender like three or four years ago," said Bi.
"But for the time being, what we can feel is that the hidden hand (of
the government) curbing football investment is gradually loosening."