SHANGHAI: Chinese football fans on Friday cheered a government move to curb the huge sums being lavished on foreign players after a string of record-breaking deals, even though details of the clampdown remained hazy.
A state sports spokesman on Thursday vowed action to put the brakes on “irrational investment” after Chinese teams reportedly made Oscar and Carlos Tevez the world’s best-paid players.
China will seek to rein in high-priced transfers and keep player salaries “reasonable”, a General Administration of Sport (GAS) spokesman warned.
Chinese Super League clubs, encouraged by President Xi Jinping’s drive to turn China into a football power, have broken the Asian transfer record five times in less than a year.
In a sign of the impact on transfer markets, Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent said the Ballon D’Or winner had turned down a world-record £257million (300m euros, $317m) bid from China.
Antonio Conte, manager of Oscar’s former club Chelsea, has called the Chinese market a “danger for all teams in the world”.
But many Chinese fans have also been uncomfortable with the clubs’ high spending, and Thursday’s announcement triggered a flood of support on social media.
“The irrational competition in the football market has borne evil fruit: higher and higher salaries for big-name foreign players, worsening league match levels, and a worsening football environment,” said one representative posting on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.
“The market economy does not mean you can do whatever you want. Government intervention is absolutely necessary.”
The GAS announcement omitted any figures when it referred to “limits” on salaries and transfer fees, and it was an open question how effective it would be as teams gear up for the coming Chinese season.
President Xi has declared his hopes of China one day hosting and winning a World Cup, comments widely seen as helping fuel the spending spree as club owners seek to win political favour.
“It’s hard to predict what will happen. China is like a supertanker. Once something like this (big spending) gets going, it’s hard to stop it,” said Mark Dreyer of China Sports Insider.
But Dreyer said the government had to speak out against a looming “bubble” that was also beginning to affect Chinese player salaries.
“If you look at the numbers, they are clearly ridiculous. It’s not sustainable from any business perspective and not helping Chinese football,” he said.
Brazilian international Oscar moved to Shanghai SIPG from Chelsea in a 60-million-euro ($63 million) deal that smashed the Asian transfer record.
Ex-Manchester United striker Tevez heads to Shanghai Shenhua, where he will reportedly outstrip Oscar as the world’s best paid player with a two-year contract of 38 million euros per season.
The GAS, which controls sports in China, said fees to support youth-development programmes may be levied on clubs that spend excessively, while insolvent teams could be kicked out of the Chinese Super League.
Many fans on social media agreed that the millions of dollars in fees and wages would be better spent developing home-grown talent.
China’s national team is currently ranked 82nd in the world — just below the Caribbean island nation of St Kitts and Nevis, population less than 60,000.
But some decried the state intervention, saying it would chase away top talent.
Cameron Wilson, who runs the Chinese football website wildeastfootball.net, said the foreign arrivals have brought unprecedented visibility for Chinese football.
“That never would have happened without the big transfers,” he said.
“I can’t see that the spending will be drastically reduced by this, but you can never rule anything out in China.”