After splashing out about 350 million euros during the winter transfer window, the Chinese Super League (CSL) will kick off its new season on Friday with five-time defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande taking on Hebei China Fortune.
The CSL has drawn global attention over the past months, snapping up big name footballers with the highest bids on the international transfer market. It is expected that the splurge will help raise the level of the CSL and may change the hierarchy in the new season.
Jiangsu Suning is tipped as the No. 1 challenger as the Nanjing-based club lavished a record 50 million euros to buy Brazilian star Alex Teixeira, only days after its 28-million-euro purchase of Ramires from Chelsea.
Jiangsu has shown its obvious ambition to dethrone five-time CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande who suffered a worst start in the Asian Champions League with a draw and a loss in two matches despite the arrival of the 42-million-euro’s signing of Jackson Martinez.
Zhang Jindong, president of Suning Commerce Group which owns Jiangsu Suning, said last month bluntly that he hopes his investment can draw more attention from the public.
“We think it is worth spending the money if it can improve the Chinese football,” he said. “If we can build the foundation well, I am sure we can realize our goal to win the Chinese Super League in three years, and lift the AFC Champions League trophy in five years.”
The winter transfer window also saw CSL runner-up Shanghai SIPG acquire Brazilian striker Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso with 18.5 million euros (about 20.1 million euros) in January from Guangzhou while Shandong Luneng and Beijing Guoan respectively sign Brazil center-back Gil and Turkey international Burak Yilmaz.
Some newcomers joined on the big-spending bandwagon as well. Hebei China Fortune recruited Argentine forward Ezequiel Lavezzi, the world’s fifth most expensive soccer player, with a weekly salary of 400,000 pounds (about 563,000 US dollars).
However, opinions vary on whether the huge investment and foreign talent are enough to boost the standard of the national team. Some even argue that expensive imports would impede the development of Chinese soccer.
A proof is that the Chinese men’s national team is on the verge of elimination from the 2018 World Cup. China, third in its qualifying group behind Qatar and Hong Kong, China, faces the Maldives at home on March 24 and Qatar on March 29. It needs to win both games to keep alive its hopes of qualifying.