Athletes Football Sport Business Sport Economics Tournaments

What Does the Reduction of Foreign Players in the Chinese Super League Mean for Africa?

Written by Paul Adesoye

March 2017 saw the reduction of foreigners in the CSL. At first glance, this may not initially seem like the biggest sports headline of the year, but considering the rate at which we have seen some of the biggest footballing stars move over to the lucrative league, we ask what does this mean for Africa?

This is a very vague question and initially, the answer may seem like ‘’not much’’, but let us take a further look into this.

In 2012, when the CSL first started to gain some publicity, it was an influx of African players that helped achieve that goal. Didier Drogba, shortly after winning the Champions League with Chelsea, left Stamford Bridge to join Shanghai Shenhua. Shortly after Yakubu Aiyegbeni departed for China, and later on, Frederic Kanoute and Seydou Keita, Malians with great careers in Europe joined the Far East.

Yakubu allegedly signed a deal reportedly worth $150,000 a week whilst Ivorian Drogba, earned a staggering $350,000 a week. Fellow Ivorian Gervinho, revealed that on top of his £165,000 a week wages, he receives a £50,000 appearance fee for every match he plays and has a £130,000 goal bonus. With players being offered the aforementioned amounts, it is no wonder the CSL has been able to attract some huge players.

Many have questioned the hunger of not only African players, but all players who make the move across to the CSL. Should players not test themselves on the bigger stage? Should they not want to win the more coveted European Leagues? Only in sports is it frowned upon for someone to leave their line of work to join somewhere where they can earn multiple amounts of their previous salary.

The tenure of African footballers in China has not been that impressive. Yakubu spent a year in China, Drogba, less than a year. Former Ghana striker, Kwame Ayew spent a total of four seasons in China. He believes the demanding Chinese culture and footballing expectations is a surprise to the players and says ‘When you go there and you don’t perform, they terminate your contract’.

In January 2017, The CSL confirmed reports that they would limit the number of foreign players plying their trade in the league to three foreigners per game. A player who is from an area governed by the Asian football association would be considered a ‘homegrown’ player in this context. Is this likely to affect the number of Africans in the league? In one word, yes.

Since 2012, the influx of African players has continued but has been rivalled by a Brazilian influx. Hulk, Oscar, Ramires, Paulinho and Alex Teixeira just to name a few.

Take the case of Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, their current squad contains Colombians Fredy Guarin and Giovanni Moreno as well as Carlos Tevez and Nigeria’s well-travelled Obafemi Martins. Under the new rules, two of the five are likely to find themselves either not playing or at another club. This is the case at many of the Chinese Super League clubs.


Foreigners at Chinese Super League Clubs (Africans in Italic):

Team: Beijing Sinobo Guoan

Egor Krimets, Ralf, Renato Augusto, Jonathan Soriano

Team: Changchun Yatai

Anzur Ismailov, Bruno Meneghel, Odion Ighalo, Marinho, Szabolcs Huszti

Team: Chongqing Dangdai Lifan

Goran Milovic, Alan Kardec, Fernandinho, Adrian Ramos, Hyuri

Team: Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao

Paulinho, Jackson Martinez, Ricardo Goulart, Alan Carvalho, Muriqui

Team: Guangzhou R&F

Junior Urso, Apostolous Giannou,Eran Zahavi, Renatinho, Sölvi Ottesen

Team: Guizhou Hengfeng Zhicheng

Michael Olunga, Tjaron Chery, Ali Ghazal, Festus Biase (born in Nigeria), Nikica Jelavic, Mario Suarez, Ryan McGowan, Rubén Castro

Team: Hebei CFFC

Stephane Mbia, Gervinho, Aloisio, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hernanes

Team: Henan Jianye

Eddi Gomes, Javier Patino, Ahmed Al Salih, Osman Sow, Javier Patiño, Ricardo Vaz Tê, Borek Dočkal, Christian Bassogog

Team: Jiangsu Suning

Ramires, Roger Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Benjamin Moukandjo, Trent Sainsbury

Team: Liaoning Whowin

James Chamanga, Assani Lukimya, Anthony Ujah, Olivier Boumal, Christian Bekamenga

Team: Shandong Luneng Taishan

Gil, Jucilei, Graziano Pelle, Diego Tardelli, Papiss Cisse

On Loan: Jucilei

Team: Shanghai Greenland Shenhua

Giovanni Moreno, Fredy Guarin, Obafemi Martins, Carlos Tevez, Stoppila Sunzu, Demba Ba, Paulo Henrique

On Loan: Oscar Romero

Team: Shanghai SIPG

Oscar, Elkeson, Hulk, Odil Ahmedov, Ricardo Carvalho

On Loan: Dario Conca

Team: Tianjin Quanjian

Pato, Axel Witsel, Anthony Modeste.

On Loan: Geuvanio

Team: Tianjin Teda

Aleksandar Jovanovic, Mbaye Diagne, Malick Evouna, John Obi Mikel, Nemanja Gudelj, Brown Ideye

On Loan: Frank Acheampong, Fredy Montero

Team: Yanbian Funde

Bubacarr Trawally, Nikola Petković

What we can see is that it probably won’t be possible to stockpile African and South Americans in the CSL. A small trend that you may have picked up from the above list is the fact that we have a few African players who belong to a Chinese team but have been loaned out. To say that this is to accommodate the current limit of 3 foreign players in a matchday squad would be a massive assumption at this point, but with the battle for foreign places in the CSL, predominantly it seems, between Africans & South Americans, it would not be a surprise to see even more African players being loaned out and perhaps even leaving China to start a new adventure elsewhere.

At the time of writing this, news of Odion Ighalo’s move to the CSL had been announced. Does this mean African players have nothing to worry about? As of today, there is no definitive answer. Will we see a mass migration of African players out of the CSL? Or will the African contingent continue to hold their own? What do you think will happen?

Let us know your thoughts!

About the author

Paul Adesoye

Financial services consultant by day. All of the below by everything else.

Manchester United Fan. Sports Management Degree. Economics degree. Scholes Enthusiast. Culture Enthusiast. A third of VSG.

Paul Adesoye is all of the above as well as a contributor to ASU. He often touches on the financial aspects of the game and has dabbled in some of the cultural aspects too. Paul is also one third of VSG, a full service Sports management company who have worked with a variety of athletes across a range of sports.


  • The mad money rush doesn’t define quality of the game, in some sense. I love what the MLS is doing to stay attractive yet sane on remuneration and incentives.

    It was not going to be a sustainable initiative from the Chinese, but they got the noise to get the league in the face of the world. African players should reshape their selection policy. Go for sustainable, not ephemeral

    • Very interesting! As a player, would you go to the MLS or the CSL?
      Since this article was written, we’ve seen the record transfer fee broken for an African player, Congo’s Cedric Bakambu to Sinobo Guoan.

Leave a Comment