Chinese Super League to Implement Salary Cap on Players

If any professional football players are considering joining the Chinese Super League in the coming season, they might need to think it twice. Earlier in December, the Chinese Football Association announced several major changes to the regulatory policies of the top-level professional leagues, including a significant salary cap for incoming recruits.

Following a major investors’ meeting on Christmas Day, Chinese football association officials announced the plan to impose an upper limit on foreign recruits’ salaries. All foreign recruits will be limited to taking no more than 3 million Euros home, starting from Jan. 2020.

According to Reuters, this is the first salary cap implemented by the Chinese Super League in more than a decade.

In addition, domestic Chinese players will have a 10 million yuan salary cap starting from the next season. However, players selected by the Chinese national team will be entitled to a 20% limit increase.

The meeting also presented several other controversial policies, including a 300,000 yuan salary cap for players under the age of 21. Chinese officials put up an operational budget constraint for all football clubs: No clubs will be allowed to spend more than 1.1 billion yuan, and players’ salaries cannot exceed 60% of the total expenditures. These figures will shrink to 900 million and 55% respectively in 2021.

For teams in the Chinese Super League, each will be entitled to register six foreign recruits in the coming seasons, while only four can play on the field during one game. For Chinese League One teams, they will be allowed to register four foreign recruits, while only two can play on the field during one game.

Chinese football clubs are also required to have neutralized names by 2021. The move will eliminate the possibility of including major sponsors’ brand names in the team. Other major issues related to the Chinese Super League, such as the Under 23 players’ attendance requirements and naturalization processes of foreign-born players remain unchanged.

According to Chinese state media Xinhua, the latest policy trends draw from the successful experience from South Korea and Japan in football development. The changes in salary caps and financial investments are also aimed at maintaining a healthy competition environment. According to statements from the Chinese Football Association, the organization will collaborate with authorities from Public Safety, Revenue Agency, and Foreign Exchange Management Office to strictly enforce the purposed policies in restricting spendings from football clubs.

For football clubs currently in the Chinese Super League, the latest policies are believed to be in favor of smaller clubs such as Henan Jianye. “If any club is losing millions of yuan for a long period of time, it is difficult to maintain the same spending level.” Said Yang Nan, an executive from Henan Jianye. “For a better and healthier football league, we need to advocate and enforce the new policies.”

Chinese media Sina Sports calls the latest policies a potential step to end the ongoing excessive spending dilemma football leagues face. With the regulations in place, the Chinese Super League will certainly be dramatically different in the coming season.

Teams from the Chinese professional football league started the current spending arms race in 2011. Backed by ambitious real estate corporations, and later sponsored by Chinese E-commerce giant Alibaba, Guangzhou Evergrande started its glorious journey in dominating the Chinese Super League. The eight-time Chinese league Champion also made significant impacts in the AFC Champions League with two championship titles in 2013 and 2015 respectively.

With more clubs willing to put out a huge salary to attract foreign recruits, the Chinese league was able to secure talents such as the Brazilian football star Oscar, Argentine football player Carlos Tevez, and former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba. The massive spending also attracted world-renowned coaches to China. Prior to coaching the Chinese national football team, former FIFA World Cup champion Marcello Lippi was the head coach for Guangzhou Evergrande. Former Brazilian national team’s head coach and 2002 FIFA World Cup Champion Luiz Felipe Scolari was also hired by Guangzhou Evergrande to lead the team from 2015 to 2017.

In contrast to the rise of Guangzhou Evergrande, smaller football clubs in the Chinese Super Leagues started to suffer from falling behind in the arms race due to their lack of funds. Former Chinese Super League champion Changchun Yatai was relegated to the Chinese League One in 2018. Former Chinese Super League team Yanbian FC dissolved as the team’s investors fell bankrupt in 2019. Former Chinese Super League powerhouse Liaoning FC is also floundering in Chinese League One. The once-dominant football club almost lost the relegation playoff in 2019. With serious financial struggles, Liaoning FC is barely surviving in the less competitive Chinese League One.

With limited funds and expenditures, smaller clubs such as Henan Jianye, Changchun Yatai, and Yanbian FC are falling behind in the rapidly escalating competitions among richer clubs.

Salary caps and spending limits are not unique to Chinese football. In other professional sports leagues, similar policies are in place to ensure the overall fairness of the competition system. With the new salary cap, it will be interesting to see the different recruiting strategies from each club. Will this turn out to be an opportunity for smaller clubs to shine or just another mediocre policy designed by the Chinese football authorities?