It was threatening to rival the spending power of even the Premier League but China on Thursday signalled what could be the end of its record-breaking splurge on foreign football stars.
Days after recruiting the likes of Oscar and Carlos Tévez on mega-money deals the country’s government ordered a clampdown against “irrational investment” and vowed to “regulate and restrain high-priced signings and make reasonable restrictions on players’ high incomes”.
The statement from an unnamed spokesman of the General Administration of Sport raised questions about China’s commitment to its plan to become the next footballing superpower and both host and win the World Cup.
Insolvent clubs could now be kicked out of the country’s Super League. Clubs have been spending more than their Premier League counterparts in recent transfer windows.
Oscar joined Shanghai SIPG from Chelsea in a £52m deal this month. In the current window Brazil star Oscar joined Shanghai SIPG from Chelsea in a £52 million deal, and Shanghai Shenhua made former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Tévez the world’s highest-paid player on a staggering £615,000 a week.
Even Oscar’s £20 million annual salary dwarves those of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Oscar and Tévez followed the likes of Italy striker Graziano Pelle, Brazil’s Hulk, Colombia’s Jackson Martinez and Belgium’s Alex Witsel, who were all lured to unfashionable China by huge wage deals.
Witsel turned down a move to Juventus to go to China, saying he was thinking about his family’s financial future.
Managers including Manuel Pellegrini (Hebei Fortune), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Guangzhou Evergrande), Andre Villas-Boas (Shanghai SIPG) and Sven-Goran Eriksson (Shenzhen FC) have also been drawn by Chinese riches.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said last month: “The Chinese market is a danger for all teams in the world. Not only for Chelsea, but all teams in the world.”
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger called Chinese spending a “distortion” that could be a threat to the Premier League.