Chinese Super League

Chinese Super League 2016

Money isn’t everything: not all foreign players live up to multimillion-dollar Chinese Super League contracts

As China tries to secure Chinese players in foreign leagues, how do foreign players brought to Chinese Super League fare?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 January, 2016, 4:39pm
UPDATED : Friday, 29 January, 2016, 10:02am

China is flexing its considerable financial muscle in “the world game”, expanding its reach into football in line with the passions of President Xi Jinping, who has made no secret of his love for the game and his ambitions for China to host the World Cup.

READ MORE: Outcry over ‘mandatory Chinese players’ plan forces mainland sponsor and Portuguese league to back down

At the same time, the Chinese Super League has acquired and negotiated with some of the biggest soccer stars from around the world in the past few years, swaying them to move to the mainland in return for considerable sums of money.

Foreign players for Chinese clubs have signed contracts expensive enough to catapult them to the salary range of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Yesterday, Jiangsu Suning reached a deal to sign Chelsea midfielder Ramires for more than US$34.7 million, the highest transfer fee in China’s history. Early this year, Shanghai SIPG tried to woo Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney with a $35.78 million per season contract, which he declined. While most players were met with initial enthusiasm, not all have lived up to the hype and the high price tags.

Here’s how some of the biggest players in China match up in salaries and on-field performance:

Dario Conca

On his second stint with a Chinese club, Conca first joined Guangzhou Evergrande in 2011 with little fanfare. The Argentinean soccer player’s move to China was considered a defining moment in the emergence of the Chinese Super League.

Upon moving to China, Conca scored nine goals in 15 appearances, helping Guangzhou became Super League champion for the first time in the team’s history. Local fans and media named him “King of Tianhe Stadium”

READ MORE: Chelsea’s Ramires joins Jiangsu in record China soccer deal

While playing for Evergrande between 2011 and 2013, Conca’s US$12.5 million a season contract made him the world’s third highest paid soccer player after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Named 2013’s C-League Player of the Year, Conca moved to Brazil’s Fluminense in 2013.

He returned to play in the Chinese Super League with the Shanghai SIPG Football Club in 2015 as their attacking midfielder, earning more than US$280,000 a week, or almost US$14.6 million a season.

Asamoah Gyan

The 30-year-old player from Ghana signed with Shanghai SIPG last July as centre forward for US$350,000 a week or just under US$16.8 million a season. His contract, which runs until 2017, not only makes Gyan one of the most expensive foreign players in China, but among the highest paid in the world.

While he scored in his debut game to help Shanghai SIPG win against Tianjin Teda, some media reports have questioned if he’s worth US$350,000 a week.

Demba Ba

With one of more infectious names to say aloud, Demba Ba signed on with Shanghai Shenhua with a reported fee of more than US$14.7 million. Ba made world headlines within a month of joining, after kicking an opposing player square in the face and escaping with a yellow card. While playing for the China Super League, Ba has scored six goals in 11 games.


The 27 year old Brazilian player made a US$14.3 million move to Guangzhou Evergrande from Tottenham Hotspur last June. He was signed by his former international manager Luiz Felipe Scolari for a four year contract. In the final moments of the quarter-final in the 2015 FIFA Club World Cup,

Paulinho scored a header against Club America, pushing Evergrande into the semi final. However, his performance against Barcelona in the finals drew mixed response as Evergrande lost 3-0.

Tim Cahill

Signing the veteran World Cup player for US$6.7 million last February, Shanghai Shenhua was initially hesitant about this deal due to Cahill’s age. At 36 years old, the Australian attacking midfielder brushes off suggestions he should retire, citing his consistent statistics. In 2015, he scored 11 goals in 28 games for Shanghai Shenhua, his third best season statistically in a 15-year career.