China to restrict ‘irrational’ spending by soccer clubs

Football association wants to reduce reliance on foreign stars so local talent can flourish

China’s football association has announced a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs on transfer fees and player salaries. The measures come amid concerns that foreign stars are crowding out local talent and harming the country’s goal of becoming a global force in world football.

The changes include confirmation that the number of foreign club players who can appear at any given time will be reduced from four to three and that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under the age of 23.

The Chinese football association said the steps would target the "operations and management" of teams in the top-tier China Super League and the China Premier League one step below it.

The new measures will address "recent irrational investments by clubs, high-figure transfer fees and salaries paid to domestic and international athletes and other issues," the CFA said in a news release. Chelsea striker Diego Costa is the latest potential big-name signing to have been linked with a move to China.

Global attention

High spending by Chinese clubs on players such as Argentina's Carlos Tevez has drawn global attention, raising fears among some that foreign stars are depriving local players of opportunities to grow.

That could stifle the government’s attempts to produce talent capable of achieving its stated goal of winning the World Cup by 2050, part of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s push to make soccer success a national priority.

Even in that endeavour, China is relying heavily on foreign talent, having hired veteran Italian coach Marcello Lippi to helm the men's national team.

Despite misgivings, Chinese clubs have continued to spend heavily over the past year to attract mainly South American stars. Apart from Tevez, whom Shanghai Shenhua said it paid an $11 million transfer fee to the Argentinian club Boca Juniors to acquire, they include Oscar, purchased from Chelsea, Brazilians Hulk, Ramires, Alex Teixeira and Paulinho, Colombian striker Jackson Martínez and Argentinian forward Ezequiel Lavezzi.

Altogether, Chinese Super League clubs paid to $300 million in the winter transfer window on big names.