In the last year or so, we’ve heard more about domestic soccer in China as in the previous three decades put together. Ever since the Chinese Super League began its unbridled spending spree, it’s been at the forefront of the conversation. Its spectacular growth in expenditure, recognition and indeed television revenue has been underwritten by the enormous transfer fees and salaries paid to well-established stars of the European – and Argentine – leagues.
This has had a dramatic knock-on effect on the big European clubs, where several teams have found the Chinese offers to be too good to refuse, and where key players are being unsettled by monster contract offers. The most recent and high-profile example is Chelsea striker Diego Costa, who seems to be unhappy that the Blues wouldn’t go along with some towering bid from China. (It should probably be noted here that Chelsea probably emboldened the Chinese to go after its best players by accepting huge offers for its Brazilians Ramires and Oscar.)
But, from the looks of it, this free-for-all cash grab will be slowing. On Monday, The Chinese soccer federation announced a tweak to its rules that will curb the number of foreigners its professional clubs can field from five to three.
That is to say, where teams could previously play one non-Chinese Asian and four non-Asians, they will now only be allowed to play three foreigners, period. Teams will also be required to start a Chinese player who is 23 or younger, with at least one other taking place on the bench for matches.
Every Super League team already has at least three foreigners on its books, and a fair few of them will have to shed some foreigners from its payroll. This should put an end to – or at least slow down – the poaching of high-profile talent from Europe’s biggest clubs.
In its statement, the Chinese federation condemned “irrational investment” in foreigners and announced “a series of measures and initiatives to regulate the operation and management of the clubs.” Roughly translated, the document even suggested the federation would “crack down” on contract irregularities and other transfer shenanigans.
The move is designed to prevent the influx of foreigners from hampering the development of local players. The end game for the Chinese government, which controls its soccer scene, is for its own national team to improve, not necessarily just for its league to become one of the best in the world – although that surely wouldn’t be an unwelcome side effect.
This rule change and initiative don’t rule out a move for Diego Costa, necessarily, as other players could simply be moved on to make room for him. But that sort of transfer should become less frequent, at the very least.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.