How China is luring top Brazilian footballers (clue: large sacks of cash)
An ever-increasing contingent of players from the South American country are finding the riches on offer on the other side of the world too much to resist
Dario Conca’s decision to join Guangzhou Evergrande in 2011 attracted little fanfare in a football world whose axis has always been heavily tilted towards Europe.
Almost five years later, the Argentine playmaker’s 10 million US-dollar move from Brazil’s Fluminense can be seen as a defining moment in the rapid emergence of the Chinese Super League.
Conca’s salary of US$12 million a year is said to have made him football’s third highest paid player after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
While it may not have grabbed major international headlines at the time, the transfer made South American football – and particularly Brazil – stand up and take notice.
A steady stream of Brazilians have followed in Conca’s footsteps, with the number multiplying in recent months.
Among current and former Brazil internationals lured by Chinese clubs in the past year are Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Robinho, Paulinho and Ricardo Goulart (all Guangzhou Evergrande), Jadson and Luis Fabiano (both Tianjin Songjiang) and Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan).
According to Tardelli, the stratospheric salaries paid by Chinese clubs have made their proposals too good to refuse.
“It changes your financial life,” he told Globoesporte. “It’s great to play in Brazil with the fans and the constant pressure to perform. But the salaries in China are higher and they are paid on time. I’m 30 years old and I have to think about my future.”
Corinthians are the team that have suffered most from China’s thirst for Brazilian flair.
The 2015 Brazilian Serie A champions have already lost Jadson and Renato Augusto in the past month with Alexandre Pato, Ralf, Elias and Cassio also considering offers from Chinese sides.
“We have been surprised by their departures,” Corinthians president Roberto de Andrade said.
“Chinese clubs work differently. They offer huge salaries and there is no way to prevent players from leaving. We could lose five, six or seven of them.”
It is not only Brazil’s players who have been wooed to China. Former national team coaches Luiz Felipe Scolari and Mano Menezes are also plying their trade there.
Menezes was appointed manager of Shandong Luneng in December, just weeks after 2002 World Cup-winning coach Scolari guided Guangzhou Evergrande to their fifth straight Super League title.
“It’s an offer that is out of this world,” said Menezes ahead of signing. “From a financial point of view there is no way to turn it down.”
The Chinese Super League’s burgeoning status as one of the world’s richest domestic competitions has been driven by reforms introduced by President Xi Jinping last year.
Meanwhile the financial position of clubs has been bolstered by tax breaks offered to private investors.
Jack Ma Yun, the owner of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, last year paid US$192 million for a 50% stake in Guangzhou Evergrande.