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Chinese Super League counts the cost of the boom years

The champions, Jiangsu Suning, have been wound up and star players and managers are leaving as economics and the covid-19 crisis take their toll.

Chinese Super League counts the cost of the boom years

The Chinese Super League (CSL), which a few years ago was emerging as one of football’s major financial heavyweights on the back of mega-money deals for star players, a blueprint that almost culminated in Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale making the move in 2019, is on the verge of bankruptcy. That largesse on the part of clubs, coupled with the knock-on economic effects of the global coronavirus crisis, has left Chinese football in a parlous state. On Sunday, the company that owns reigning champions Jiangsu Suning, Suning Appliance Group, announced it would cease its football operations with immediate effect.

Champions Jiangsu to be disbanded

Jiangsu Suning were among the richest clubs in China until recently according to Forbes and a rags-to-riches story after securing promotion from the third tier to eventually lift the Chinese Super League title. But that success has not proven enough as the debt mounted up. Huge outlays on Álex Teixera (€50m) and Ramires (€28m) in recent seasons exacerbated the problem. It was Jiangsu that reached an agreement in principle with Bale, with the move reportedly being blocked by Real Madrid at the last minute.

The demise of Jiangsu is the latest collapse in a domino effect that started three years ago after the Chinese government imposed stringent rules on foreign player arrivals to stem the outward flow of transfer fees, obliging clubs match any outlay with the same amount in a payment to the Chinese Football Association.

The most high-profile case was that of Carlos Tévez, who became the world’s highest paid player when he moved to Shanghai Shenhua in 2016. When Tévez left, amid criticism of his fitness levels, the Argentinean described his stay in the CSL as a “holiday.”

CSL transfer outlay plummets

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Four years ago, total transfer expenditure in the CSL surpassed €380 million. Since then, 16 clubs have folded. In the last CSL transfer window only €7.5m was spent with the most expensive arrival being Ante Majstorovic, who joined Shanghai Port for €3.3m. It is a far cry from the days when Hulk and Óscar were being unveiled for fees in excess of €50m or Chongqing Dangdai Lifan offering Andrés Iniesta a three-year, €81m deal.

Another factor in the CSL’s demise was the decision to impose a salary cap of €3m, effective from the start of the current season. That has led to an exodus of foreign stars including Teixera, Hulk, Odion Ighalo, Stephan El Shaarawy, Solomon Rondón, and Graziano Pellé.

Coaches have also been affected, with Rafa Benítez, Vitor Pereira, Bruno Genesio and Giovanni van Bronckhorst all set to depart, leaving behind a CSL devoid of most of its star names, lacking money and as of this week, without the participation of its reigning champion.