“Biggest”, “hugest”, “most ever”. Analysts are piling up superlatives as China prepares to splash out astronomical sums for footballing talent during the winter transfer window in deals that analysts say involve more money than sense.
Last year, Chinese teams broke the Asian transfer record four times in an acquisition spree that outstripped even the mega-rich English Premier League.
And even before this year’s starting whistle on Sunday, Chinese sides have already begun offering record-breaking sums to lure top talent to the pitches of the world’s second-largest economy.
On Thursday, Shanghai Greenland Shenhua said they had signed Argentine striker Carlos Tevez to a two-year contract, with sources saying he would earn around 38 million euros ($40 million) a season, making him the world’s best-salaried footballer.
The announcement came quick on the heels of Shanghai SIPG’s swoop on Chelsea’s Oscar for a reported $73 million fee.
“Money in every area of the game is going through the roof,” said David Hornby, of the Shanghai-based Mailman Group.
“Transfer fees, rights fees, China tours and sponsorship are all increasing fast so there’s absolutely no reason to think this will slow down this year.”
Mark Dreyer of China Sports Insider said that last year “the world was taken by surprise”, but now “the element of surprise is gone. Everyone is expecting the same thing”.
While China is bad at soccer it is very good at buying talent.
“There is an appetite by the billionaire owners to outdo each other and continue to land more big name players,” said Marcus Luer, founder and chief executive of marketing agency Total Sports Asia.
This week’s headline signings typify the trend.
Whereas last year Chinese teams were mostly signing “unknown” Brazilians, this year “there’ve been rumours flying around for pretty much every big name player,” Dreyer said.
Even world superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s name has been put in the mix, his agent told Sky Italia, saying that the four-time Ballon d’Or winner had been offered 100 million euros a year to hit the Chinese pitch.
“But money is not everything,” he said. “They can buy a lot of players, but then again, it is impossible to go for Ronaldo.”
The world-beating deals are part of a Chinese rush into football that seems to be driven more by political calculations than fiscal ones.