Manuel Veth –
The German page transfermarkt.de is the Financial Times of the football world. This homepage has become the benchmark for determining the transfer value of every player across the globe, as users meticulously track player performances around the globe. In 2012, a team of scientists has calculated that the values displayed on the page have a .93 correlation with the values that are actually paid for players in the real world.
In a most recent update, the homepage has re-evaluated the transfer value of all players in the Chinese Super League. The Chinese Super League, especially, made headlines last winter when President Xi Jinping, who is a big football fan, motivated large Chinese companies to invest heavily in both Chinese and also global football.
The investments by Chinese companies and the signing of a new television contract, meant that the clubs of the Chinese Super League could invest €339,417,760 last winter, which is the bigger transfer window in China because, unlike most European leagues, the league runs within the calendar year from spring to fall. In the summer, which is the midseason transfer window for the league, clubs spent another €132,308,500.
Chinese Super League – The South American connection
With a few exceptions, Chinese clubs targeted South American players. Players from Brazil, in particular, are tempted to forego a brilliant career in a big European league for money in China. As the wonderful documentary Mata Mata highlights, there is a good reason for the money first approach, especially among Brazilians. Brazilian players often find themselves in a situation were they don’t just have to support themselves, but rather they become the breadwinners for their entire families. Indeed, Brazilian players are often like mini-businesses, who with their football have to feed not only this generation, but future generations as well.
This was, for example, the main reason why the Brazilian playmaker Renato Augusto decided to sign a contract with Beijing Guoan, rather than with the Bundesliga team Schalke 04. The German paper Sport Bild reported in January that Schalke went to the very limit when offering a contract to Renato Augusto— Renato Augusto’s agent, Carlos Leite, wanted €4 million after taxes (€8 million before taxes), as well as an additional €2 million for signing the contract. The Chinese, meanwhile, offered €9 million a season (at a much lower tax rate), an offer that Renato Augusto simply could not refuse.
Fans at Corinthians were appalled. Brazilian football fans have long been accustomed to the fact that their best players would move to Europe to become global superstars. But to move to an obscure league in China simply for money was something that Brazilian club fans in particular could not understand. Indeed our conversation with David Caren, who is based in Brazil, before one of our Futbolgrad Podcasts highlighted this. Caren believes that Chinese money has done real damage to the Brazilian Série A where the level has dropped significantly since the influx of Chinese money.
For the Europeans, this has meant that it is now more difficult to acquire South American talent, and Brazilian talent in particular. There was also understanding of the tough economic situation for Brazilians—as one user on transfermarkt.de wrote following Schalke’s failed bid for Renato Augusto: “Go feed your family Renato”. Yet, there was also consensus that the move to China would destroy the long-term value of players who have made the move to Asia rather than to Europe.
Many Brazilians have dropped in value after signing for Chinese Super League clubs
This is now reflected in the recent transfer value study on transfermarkt.de as several prominent South American players have seen their transfer value drop since making the move from Europe to China. Most prominently, star striker, Hulk, who moved from Zenit Saint Petersburg to Shanghai SIPG for €55.8 million, has seen his value drop from €32 million to €22 million since making the move from Russia to China. The analysts at transfermarkt.de believe that the size of his new contract in Shanghai makes it extremely unlikely that a big European club could make a sizeable offer for Hulk. Despite his devaluation, however, Hulk remains the most expensive player in the league.
Another example is the Colombian forward Jackson Martínez, who, in February 2016, moved for €42 million from Atlético Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande. Several injuries have meant that the Colombian has seen limited playing time, and the move to China has also stalled his career in the Colombian national team. His transfer value has dropped from €30 million to €9 million. Unlike Hulk, however, Jackson Martínez could return to Europe soon, as he is frequently linked with a move to Inter Milan, where Chinese investors have bought a controlling stake in the club.
Another player who has seen his transfer value diminish is the Brazilian playmaker, Alex Teixeira, who moved from Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning on February 5 2016. Alex Teixeira was heavily linked with a big money move to Liverpool FC last winter, but the English Premier League club refused to meet Shakhtar’s demands of €50 million. At the time Alex Teixeira pushed strongly for a move to England, as he stated that he wanted to improve his chance to play for the Brazilian national team.
Shakhtar asked him to stay put until the summer, as the club had plans to go far in the Europa League, and also wanted to challenge Dynamo Kyiv for top spot in Ukraine. Then Jiangsu Suning met Shakhtar’s demands, and Alex Teixeira was off to China. The Brazilian’s value has since dropped from €30 million to €19 million, and he has not made one appearance in the Seleção—meanwhile the Brazilian Taison, who remained at Shakhtar, has since made his debut for the Brazilian national team under Tite.
The drop in transfer value, is not just limited to South American players, however, as the Italian forward Graziano Pellè has seen his value drop from €11 million to €8 million since making the move from FC Southampton to Shandong Luneng Taishan. The Italian forward is now 31, and with a sizeable contract in his pocket it is unlikely that Pellè will make another big money move.
Another problem in China has been the fact that there are severe restrictions for clubs on how many foreigners can be registered. Currently, every team can register four foreign players, as well as one Asian foreign player. This has meant that players such as the Argentine star, Ezequiel Lavezzi, who is under contract at Hebei China Fortune, was not registered this season and, as a result, his value has dropped from €5 million to €4.5 million—he was once valued at €30 million.
Roger Martínez and other exception of the Chinese Super League
In the 474 updates on transfer values posted by transfermarkt.de on the Chinese Super League, 118 players saw their value increase, and 141 had their value decrease. The biggest beneficiary, in terms of transfer value increase, is the 22-year-old Colombian striker Roger Martínez, who plays for Jiangsu Suning, who was bought by the club in the summer from the Argentine team RC de Avellaneda. His transfer value has increased from €1.2 million to €4.8 million, as the Colombian has scored ten goals, and given four assists in 12 CSL games.
Martínez, however, is not likely to stay in China long, as the player was simply parked by Jiangsu Suning this summer. The Suning Group is one of the investors at the Italian club Inter Milan. The Italians were unable to complete the transfer in the summer due to foreign limitation rules and Financial Fair Play regulations, and the Chinese club, therefore, officially bought Martínez instead. It is, thus, likely that Martínez will be sent to Italy on loan in the near future.
Other players who have seen their value increase are the 24-year-old Brazilian winger Geuvânio (from €2.4 million to €2.8 million), who plays for the China League One (second division) club Tianjin Quanjian, the former Red Bull Salzburg striker, Alan, (from €5 million to €6.5 million), who plays for Guangzhou Evergrande, as well as the 22-year-old Brazilian winger Biro Biro (from €1.2 million to €2 million).
Especially in the cases of Geuvânio and Biro Biro, there is a belief that their ages, and lower transfer values may open doors to transfers to the big Western European leagues. Furthermore, clubs in the Chinese League One have smaller investment funds, and those players are, as a result, unlikely to see their careers out in China.
It, therefore, can be noted that for most of the bigger name players who have made the move from either Europe or South America to China, the move has meant that their transfer value has been diminished, as they are no longer considered valuable transfer targets by big Western European clubs. In many cases, the move has also jeopardized the national team careers of players who have transferred to China.
Renato Augusto and Paulinho – The rare exceptions
Of course, there are exceptions, for Renato Augusto, and Paulinho have made remarkable progress in their national team careers. But both of them were established national team players, and were considered leaders in the Seleção—at the same time, however, the transfer value has dropped for both of them since their moves to China.
A promising player like Alex Teixeira who, at Shakhtar, was on the verge of breaking into the first team, has failed to make an appearance in the national team. In comparison, Eastern European based players, such as the above-mentioned Taison, or Giuliano, who made the move from Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense to Zenit Saint Petersburg in the summer, have received call ups in recent times.
Both of the above players compete on a regular basis in Europe’s big club competitions and, therefore, receive playing time at the highest physical and technical levels. China, in the meantime, has made dramatic steps in their football development, but the transfer values indicate the league is not yet considered a prime destination for players who want to build their careers based on accolades rather than money.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist and a writer for Bundesliga.com. He is also a holder of a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.