Spanish La Liga, the English Premier League – these are considered to be the top leagues in the world, the leagues in which every footballer wants to play. They attract the best players in the world – just look at the talent we see playing week in week out for some of the top clubs in these leagues, such as Messi, Ronaldo, Ibrahimović, Bale, Pogba. These guys have all been attracted to these leagues due to the standard of football played, the history of their respective teams, and of course, the dosh, the readies, and the pack packets they receive.
Just contemplate this; Gareth Bale is earning £300K ($374,845) a week at Real Madrid – yes, a week! That’s more than many people would make in a lifetime. However, in the past few years, the big boys of China are getting in on the act, getting out their checkbooks and are prepared to offer footballers they deem to be superstars – some may say even mediocre footballers – huge pay-packets and transfer fees. The spending power of these Chinese teams knows no bounds – there aren’t any limits and they’re prepared to offer players three times as much as they’d get playing in the Premier League.
For some players, the lure of such a pay-packet is just too much. The Brazilian Hulk, for example – a star for many years playing in Europe – is now in the Chinese Super League earning £46.2m. It’s even said the league’s been after the likes of Ronaldo and Messi. Wayne Rooney is another star name that seems to be on their agenda.
Who’s made the switch to the CSL? These are 15 former Premier League stars you didn’t know were playing in China.
15 Obafemi Martins
This Nigerian forward has been around a bit, playing for numerous different clubs in different continents during the course of his 16-year senior career to date. He started off playing in Reggiana, but became known to PL fans in 2006 when he joined Newcastle for a three-year spell. He was a dependable striker for the club – netting 28 times in 88 appearances – and became known not only for his goal scoring prowess, but also for his speed on the ball. In 2009, he was on the move again, but returned to the PL a couple of years later for a loan spell at Birmingham City.
After a decent spell in Washington playing for Seattle Sounders FC – he netted 40 times in 72 appearances – the CSL came calling. He joined Shanghai Shenhua in February of this year and has so far scored nine times for his new club.
Gervinho’s one stellar name that all you fans of the PL will remember. The Ivorian international started his career off in Belgium before playing in France. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger – being French – has always made sure there’s a strong French contingent running through his team. Gervinho may not be French, but impressed while at Le Mans and Lille and was snapped up by Wenger. Gervinho then had a decent time of it in Italy with Roma, but when Hebei China Fortune offered him an initial fee of €18 million, he couldn’t say no. He scored on his debut for the club and has netted three times in 18 appearances to date, but a horrific injury has meant that he’s been side-lined for much of the CSL season. He’s unlikely to resume action until well into 2017.
13 Osman Sow
Sow began his career in Sweden and had a pretty decent time of it, scoring 12 times in 25 appearances for Väsby United. He then embarked on a career in Moldovian football and joined one of the lesser-known teams in Europe, FC Dacia Chișinău. After being transferred back to Sweden – to Syrianska FC – he came to PL club Crystal Palace. He joined on a free transfer, but didn’t set the world alight; he was young, still finding he feet, and consequently spent the majority of his spell with Palace gaining experience with the reserves. However, injuries hampered his progress with Palace too. He then went off to Scotland and joined Heart of Midlothian Football Club, where he enjoyed the best period of his career; his two-year spell and 52 appearances yielded 23 goals.
In February 2016, Henan Jianye of the CSL came calling and offered a fee that neither Sow nor his club could turn down. Manager of Hearts, Robbie Neilson, said that the transfer fee would enable the club to invest heavily in their youth – so off Sow went to China where he’s been ever since.
12 Asamoah Gyan
Gyan is another player who’s been around the globe a bit. He began his career in Ghana – his country of birth – before moving to Italy, where he played for Udinese and Modena. He then went off to France, and in 2010, was picked up by Sunderland – who broke their club’s transfer record to sign him – where he spent the next two years.
As a striker, Gyan’s had a pretty decent time of it. He’s scored goals wherever he’s gone, has a decent goal scoring to game ratio and is a dependable center forward. However, in 2012 Gyan began his love affair with the United Arab Emirates. He was sent out on loan to Al Ain and became an instant hit scoring an impressive 22 goals in 18 appearances. He joined the club full time for the next three year and continued his form, netting 73 times in 65 appearances.
Despite his success in the UAE, when Shanghai SIPG offered him £227,000 a week to come to the CSL, he snapped it up, as you would. This made him one of the highest paid footballers in the world. He’s currently out on loan, again in the UAE with Al Ahli, but he’s still a contracted Shanghai SIPG player and will no doubt resume his playing days in the CSL in the near future.
11 Demba Ba
Demba Ba is a striker of the highest caliber. Look at his goal scoring record for all the clubs he’s played during the course of his 11-year professional career and it’s remarkable that more of the bigger clubs haven’t attempted to get his services on board.
Ba came to the PL in 2011 after enjoying a four-year spell with German side - 1899 Hoffenheim. He netted 37 times in 97 appearances for the club, but after disciplinary issues, he sought out a move to the PL. Ba was originally set to join Stoke, but actually failed his medical, not that his long-term medical issue prevented him from scoring a stack load of goals for his other clubs, or for subsequently signing for West Ham. He scored seven times in short spell with the Hammers, and then enjoyed the best stint of his career in Newcastle which is where he really made a name for himself. scoring 29 times in 54 appearances for Newcastle got the big boys interested, and it was Chelsea who signed him.
At Stamford Bridge, he was mainly used as a substitute and only netted seven times, prompting his move to Beşiktaş where again the goals kept coming. This sparked the interest of Shanghai Shenhua in signing him; Ba accepted the deal, signed a three-year contract, and has continued his successful goal-scoring run, scoring 20 times in 29 appearances to date in the CSL.
10 Papiss Cissé
Like Ba, Papiss is another Senegalese international who endeared himself to the Toon Army and found success at St James' Park. Also, like Ba, Papiss has had a decent goal- scoring-to-game ratio wherever he’s gone – it’s not surprising that Shandong Luneng of the CSL were eager to get him playing in China.
Impressive spells in France and then in Germany got many teams in the PL interested. It was Newcastle who signed him up in 2012 on a five-and-a-half-year deal estimated to be in the region £9.3 million. He found success linking up with Demba Ba, and ended up scoring 37 times in 117 appearances. Papiss struggled after the departure of Ba, and so when Shandong Luneng offered him a deal in 2016, the logical thing for all parties to do was to accept.
9 Gaël Kakuta
French winger Kakuta’s career is still in it’s infancy; he’s only 25 – most players move to the CSL later in their careers, but a big money move at that stage of his career was too much to turn down.
The latter end of Kakuta’s youth career was spent at Chelsea, and in 2009, he graduated to the first team and began making appearances at senior level. He spent six years with the club, but only actually played six times during this period for Chelsea. Chelsea sent him off on loan spells to five different countries. He had a couple of loan stints with other PL teams – Bolton Wanderers and Fulham – and then went off to Spain, Italy, The Netherlands and France. In 2015, Kakuta still wasn’t in Chelsea’s plans and they sent him packing for good.
Kakuta’s now 25 but started his professional career as an 18-year-old. During this period, before joining the CSL, he had only made 103 appearances at professional level. In seven years, 103 appearances is not enough for a youngster looking to make his way in the world of football, and so unsurprisingly, when Hebei China Fortune announced their interest in signing him, he didn’t have to think twice about it.
8 Graziano Pellè
Thanks to the CSL and his move to Shandong Luneng, Pelle is now the joint fifth best paid player in the world, joined by Ibrahimović and only behind the likes of Neymar, Hulk – also in the CSL – Messi and Ronaldo. Who would’ve thought that would’ve been the case after it took him three years to net his first goal at professional level?
In 2012, Pelle’s career began to pick up a bit. After being loaned out to Feyenoord from Parma, he netted 27 times in 29 appearances, and then joined the Dutch side permanently, scoring a further 23 times in 28 matches for the club. His record got PL clubs interested and it was Southampton that signed him in 2014. In his two-year spell at Southampton, Pelle scored 23 times in 68 appearances, a decent record for a striker at Southampton – a team who let’s face it, aren’t inundated with star players. Pelle didn’t have much quality around him to help him out.
The lures of a big money transfer sent Pelle off to the CSL in July of this year, where he’s scored five times for Shandong Luneng to date.
7 Sun Jihai
It seems as if Sun Jihai’s been around for ages; that’s because he has. Jihai is now 39 years old and began his pro career way back in 1995, when he played with Chinese side Dalian Shide in his home country. Chinese football wasn’t nearly as big a superpower as it is now.
Jihai’s known as a reliable defender, a man who can do a solid job at the back. He’s played around the world during his long and illustrious career, including spells with three English clubs. His first stint in England was with Crystal Palace, on loan from Dalian Shide, in 1998. He then stayed in the UK where he settled in Manchester, spending the next six years of his career with City before the club became one of the biggest clubs in world football. In 2008, Jihai had a stint with Sheffield United, and ever since then he’s been playing in China.
Since 2009, Jihai has played for various teams in China including Chengdu Blades, Guizhou Renhe – where he had his most successful time in China – Chongqing Lifan and he’s now with Beijing Renhe, who play in the Chinese League One division.
6 Marcelo Moreno
Bolivian international Marcelo Moreno started his career off in Brazil, where he holds dual nationality. As a striker, his career started off reasonably well as a teenager. Then three years into his career, he made the move to Europe and joined FC Shakhtar Donetsk. He made 32 appearances for the club in a three-year stint, although he spent much of this time loaned out. In 2010, he was loaned to Wigan Athletic, although he failed to score and returned to the Ukrainian club to see out the final year of his contract. It was when he moved back to Brazil in 2012 that Moreno started enjoying more success. He began scoring goals regularly, and that caught the attention of the CSL and Changchun Yatai. He’s been with the CSL side since 2015 and has had a good time of it, scoring 22 times in 53 appearances.
Brazilian Jô should be well known to a lot of you PL fans. He was contracted with Manchester City for three years from 2008-2011 – around the time of the club’s takeover and the vast influx of money into the club. Jô had to compete to establish himself in the side, which was difficult considering the talent City had bought to the club during that period. After a year with City, he was loaned out to Everton, but then decided to move back to Brazil.
A stint with UAE-based club, Al Shabab, followed that and then Jiangsu Suning of the Chinese Super League contracted his services. Jô netted six times in 17 appearances for the club, and earlier this month, just signed a deal which is set to take him back to his first club in his native Brazil. He’s signed with the Corinthians, but is still a Jiangsu Suning player, as he won’t be able to take to the field for his new club until next year.
Midfielder Paulinho seems to have been around for ages, but he’s still in his 20s. He’s been capped 36 times for Brazil, and is a solid player in the center of the park. A solid, reliable presence is needed to steady the ship around all the flair of the Brazilian national team. He’s powerful going forward with an eye for goal and is strong as a defensive midfielder too; consequently, plenty of clubs around the world have been eager to get him on board.
Pretty odd for a Brazilian, but Paulinho began his pro career in Lithuania. He then moved on to Poland before spending the next five years in his native Brazil. In 2013, he caught the interest of Tottenham Hotspur and came to the PL for a couple of years, during which time he was a regular in the side.
After 45 appearances for Spurs, Guangzhou Evergrande signed him on a four-year deal and Paulinho was on his way to the CSL for a deal set to be in the region of £9.9 million. Incidentally, it was his old international boss, Luiz Felipe Scolari – still the manager of Guangzhou Evergrande – who signed Paulinho.
The CSL has a strong Brazilian contingent – that unique Brazilian flair and style is coursing through the CSL. Brazilian international Ramires made the headlines earlier this year after a big money move to the CSL to join Jiangsu Suning. When we say big money, we’re talking £25m for a four-year contract – a transfer that shattered records for the CSL with it being the biggest signing in CSL history, that was until it was eclipsed by Ramires’ Brazilian teammate, Hulk, five months later in June of this year.
Ramires is a useful asset in any side; as a box-to-box midfielder he’s accomplished at tracking back and helping out the defense and has an eye for goal going forward. Chelsea recognized this and signed him in 2010. He spent the next six years at the club, making 160 appearances, but even for a club with the riches of Chelsea, the money they’d make from the Ramires’ transfer to the CSL was too much to resist. He’s settled in nicely at the CSL and has made 26 appearances to date.
2 Stéphane Mbia
The Cameroon international has been a rock-solid defender since 2004. He became known for his defensive prowess in France, becoming a permanent fixture at the back for his first professional side, Rennes. He made 104 appearances for the French side and became known as someone who doesn’t stray from his defensive duties. After spending eight years in France, it was off to the UK; QPR had managed to escape relegation from the PL by the narrowest of margins and so called upon Mbia to help sure up their defense.
He spent a couple of seasons in the PL, then travelled to Spain and Turkish side Trabzonspor before getting signed by CSL side Hebei China Fortune at the beginning of this year. The Cameroon international captain has actually been on quite a scoring run in the CSL; he’s netted six times in 26 appearances, and has managed to still be a rock-solid presence at the back.
1 Nikica Jelavic
In February of this year, Nikica Jelavic completed his £4 million move to China from PL side West Ham United, just the latest big money move for a PL star to the China.
The Croatian international began making headlines for his goal-scoring abilities when he joined Scottish side Rangers in 2010. He scored 30 times in 45 appearances for Rangers, and that got PL sides interested. Over the next four years, he had stints with a few PL sides – Everton, Hull City, and most recently, West Ham.
However, he failed to set the world alight. Both Jelavic and West Ham must have been thanking their lucky stars when Beijing Renhe came in with an offer they couldn’t refuse. The China League One side signed Jelavic in February of this year; he’s since netted 15 times in 29 appearances.