Why are so many players flocking to China?

When on Wednesday that it was announced that midfielder Ramires had completed his move from Chelsea to Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning, six years after the 28-year-old joined the Blues from Benfica, many Chelsea fans were disappointed to see the Brazilian leave Stamford Bridge. Others, and neutrals like myself, wondered the obvious “why is he going to China?”

China, with all due respect, isn’t a major footballing nation. Yet players and managers are flocking there.

Robinho, the one time darling of Brazilian football (a title once held by Pelé, now held by Neymar), plies his trade for Guangzhou Evergrande, who are based in Tianhe District, Guangzhou. His team mates include former Spurs star Paulinho and former West Ham playmaker Alessandro Diamanti. The latter they can afford to put out on loan to Atalanta. Oh, and the manager is the hugely decorated and widely respected Luiz Felipe Scolari.

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Plenty more talent in the league too, and they are not exactly players at the very end of their careers. For example former Bayer Leverkusen star Renato Agusto is with Beijing Guoan. Asamoah Gyan is with Shanghai SIPG. Demba Ba is playing for Shanghai Shenua, as is former Inter Milan star Fredy Guarin. Former Boca Juniors striker Emmanuel Gigliotti is with Chingqing Lifan. Roma recently sold Gervinho to Hebei China Fortune. The list goes on.

Serious money is swapping hands in exchange for the players, who themselves will be paid enormous wages. Many top players are willing to leave some of the most prestigious leagues in the world to join a fairly anonymous league in a country with an enormously different culture base, lured by the insane money on offer to them.

Where does this money come from, you ask? Most of the top clubs who employ the big names are owned by multi-billion dollar Chinese corporations. You probably could have guessed that, right?

While I applaud any effort to make less prestigious leagues grow, I can’t but help feeling like it’s a massive gamble really. Only a week ago, it was reported that a Chinese club offered to make Fernando Torres the highest paid player on the planet (despite the fact he hasn’t been the same player in years most would argue). He’s still with Atléti as we speak. And according to reports new Chelsea signing Alexandre Pato turned down enormous amounts of cash to join a team in China’s second tier. Remember when Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba went to China in 2012, but made a huge u-turn at the first opportunity?

Will many of these players manage to see out even the first year of their contract? Only time will tell. But, as time goes on, more and more players are flocking to China. Keep an eye on things there – it could get interesting.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)