The recent Winter transfer window has been dominated by the wealth of the Far East, which in turn can make MLS’s DP system obsolete.
Football fans and managers around the world are still reeling from player transfers to the CSL, Chinese Super League. China’s expanding league, which at the time of writing still isn’t recognized by FIFA, has been a major topic of conversation in the sport world.
The league has been around since 2004 but only recently became a serious destination for players and coaches. Some of the notable coaches overseas include Luiz Felipe Scolari, Fabio Cannavaro and Manuel Pellegrini. The league has even tried to woo the best referee on the planet, Mark Clattenburg. Over the past year China — as a nation — has become serious in attempting to evolve into a global super power in the sport. Thanks to a combination of government and private funding, teams in the CSL are after the world’s biggest stars.
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Things kicked off last year with big money signings starting with Jackson Martinez for €42 million, a record for an Asian team. The record was broken two days later when Alex Teixeira signed for Jiangsu Suning (owned by the same owners as Inter Milan) for £38.4 million (roughly €50 million). The free spending continued in the summer where decent players were being paid up to 7 times their wages to play in the Far East. The transfers peaked several weeks ago when Oscar — the Brazilian and Chelsea star — was sold for €60 million to Shanghai SIPG. Within the same week, former Argentina and Juventus star Carlos Tevez became the highest paid footballer on the planet for Shanghai Shenhua, earning €38 million per season net. Suffice to say the world took notice.
How does this affect Major League Soccer and its stars like Sebastian Giovinco, Nicolas Lodeiro and David Villa?
Back in 2007 when David Beckham joined the league, it ushered the era of the Designated Player (DP). This new rule allowed teams to have three players that could be paid a salary that didn’t count towards the salary cap. Beckham was paid $6.5 million and currently Sebastian Giovinco is being paid $7 million. That’s peanuts to what the Chinese can offer. What’s to stop one of the CSL clubs from offering Giovinco double, or triple his salary to play overseas? A player like him could command €20+ million per year. The Chinese clubs would have to offer a transfer fee perhaps in the tens of millions, $25-30 at the very least. Both terms could easily be met if a club fancies his skills enough.
It would be foolish for Toronto FC’s management to not consider such an offer. Now, for the record, I am not speculating on Giovinco leaving TFC. He is very happy in Toronto and is making a very good living. He’s being recognized all over the continent. Despite the enormous wages, he is likely to disappear from the spotlight should he decide to make the move to the Far East. MLS should be very wary of this issue.
The whole appeal of MLS to European stars, at least what it used to be, was that it would be an easy, handsome pay-cheque when they were older. MLS has tried to move away from this, signing players to significant deals in their prime like Giovinco, Lodeiro, Bradley and Altidore. Should teams in the CSL also have the same ideas, MLS simply cannot compete.
Now more than ever, money talks and this past transfer window has shown that. The CSL’s buying power could counter the advantage the DP rule has and lose leverage to sign some of the world’s biggest stars. MLS has grown significantly since 2007 both on and off the pitch. There’s no guarantee of this of course, but the new rich boys in town could undo a decade’s worth of work and threaten the appeal of MLS, stunting the growth of one of the world’s upcoming football leagues. Don Garber, take note.