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Why Chinese clubs are breaking transfer records – and why players are wise to go

Oscar gave up benchwarming at Chelsea to quadruple his wages and become one of the biggest stars in a continent of four billion people. Is that so bad?

By Steve Price for These Football Times, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The world started to pay serious attention to the Chinese Super League during last January’s transfer window. Chinese clubs spent huge amounts of money as they tried to lure world-class footballers to the country, with the most notable spending coming from Guangzhou Evergrande, who signed Jackson Martínez from Atlético Madrid for £32m, and Jiangsu Suning, who paid Chelsea £20m for Ramires. The deals hit the headlines across the globe, and Shanghai SIPG’s £52m acquisition of Oscar from Chelsea and Carlos Tevez’s £71m move to Shanghai Shenhua, suggest the big spending will continue this year.

Although many people, including Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, claim that Chinese wealth is a danger to clubs around the world, the large figures are partially caused by market imperfections that have arisen due to the rule that Chinese clubs must limit the number of international players in their squads. This, coupled with the lack of world-class Chinese players, drives up the price of the best homegrown players; for instance Zhang Lu, a 29-year-old goalkeeper with just two caps for China, moved clubs for £8m last year. The high cost of top Chinese talent means it makes economic sense for clubs to spend large sums on top foreign players such as Oscar and Tevez. Indeed, given the inflated prices of Chinese players, Oscar’s price tag may be closer to his real value.

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