Chinese Football Authority Cracks Down on CSL Salaries and Sponsors

By Tom Glover, December 19, 2020

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Exorbitant player salaries and teams with sponsors in their names are soon to be a thing of the past in the Chinese Super League (CSL).

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) announced on Monday, December 14 that they were implementing new rules aimed to ‘curb money football’ and support the national team, state news agency Xinhua reported. The new measures will come into effect on January 1, 2021.

From next season onward the top flight will cap top domestic players’ salaries at RMB5 million (USD765,000) a year, while foreign players cannot make more than three million euros (USD3.63 million) annually. 

Clubs will also have to curb their overall spending on salaries as this will be limited to RMB600 million per year, with a maximum spending total of 10 million euros on foreign talent. Additionally, a team’s average salary spent on local players cannot exceed RMB3 million, as cited by Xinhua. 

“The policy aims to curb the investment bubbles in our leagues and promote the healthy and sustainable development of professional football,” the CFA document read.

According to a CFA source, the CSL club average annual expenditure was RMB1.1 billion in the 2018 season and the majority of teams faced financial losses.

This should put an end to expensive transfers such as Hulk’s 55 million euro (USD66 million) move to Shanghai SIPG in 2016, the record signing in Asian football at the time and the 60 million euro (USD71 million) deal which saw Oscar join SIPG from Chelsea in 2017. Upon joining Shanghai, it was reported that Oscar’s wages were USD26.5 million a year - almost eight times the new foreign talent salary cap, as cited by BBC. 

Hulk on SIPG. Image via

But, the CFA isn’t merely focused on cleaning up the CSL’s salary frenzy. The association is hoping to aid the China national football team as well. Due to a lack of elite domestic talent and spending on foreign players limited, many of the best Chinese players have become vastly overpaid. This has had a detrimental effect on Chinese football overall. 

“The CSL club expenditure is about ten times higher than South Korea’s K-League and three times higher than Japan’s J-league. But our national team is lagging far behind. The bubbles not only affect the present of Chinese football, but also hurts its future,” said CFA president Chen Xuyuan.

China is currently ranked 75th in the world, while South Korea is 38th and Japan is 27th.

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By limiting domestic players’ salaries, the CFA wants to encourage more players to go and ply their trade abroad. Salaries overseas may be lower but the playing standard is higher. If more Chinese players break into teams in Europe then, in theory, the national team will become more competitive and have a stronger chance at World Cup glory. 

However Chinese footballers have struggled in the last decade or so to make any sort of impact for teams in international leagues bar the notable exception of Wu Lei. 

Wu Lei on Li Liga’s RCD Espanyol. Image via CGTN

The 29-year-old Nanjing native has enjoyed a relatively decent spell at Spanish side Espanyol since his 2019 move, playing over 60 games and scoring nine goals. In his short spell in La Liga he broke many records such as being the first Chinese player to score against Barcelona, but these achievements are a little hollow when you consider that he had very few predecessors in Europe and many of those failed to carve out a name for themselves. But with the new measures by the CFA, there is a possibility more Chinese players may head out West to play.

READ MORE: Footballer Wu Lei Praised for Refusing to Sign China National Flag

For the CSL, any team whose total spending exceeds the new limit will be docked between 6 to 24 points, with players whose salaries go over the cap not allowed to play in matches organized by the CFA. If any contract forgery or evasive behavior is uncovered by the CFA, the club in question will be relegated and any player involved will be given a two-year ban. Limits will also be introduced for the second and third tiers of Chinese football.

These tough punishments for violations of the rules show that the CFA won’t be pulling any punches, with Chen stating “No matter how big the club is or how famous the player is, we will strictly follow the regulations with no considerations,” Chen warned. “Do not test our determination.”

Clubs do have some room to maneuver, however. Although they must sign new contracts with all players following the implementation of the salary cap, for any player whose previous contract goes over the cap, clubs can sign agreements to make up the difference within three years and this will not be included in the clubs’ overall expenditure. 

The guidelines also address Chinese clubs’ names. The CFA is demanding that all professional teams remove any content related to corporate sponsors and owners from their official names.

Explaining the name change requirement, Chen said, “In the past, the club owners changed quickly in our leagues and therefore the club names also had to change. It was not helpful to cultivate a football culture in China.”

“The clubs should consider the culture of local fans and the characteristics of cities when choosing new names,” he noted, adding that the CFA has established a task force including fans, media and experts to audit the clubs’ new names, Xinhua reported. 

But many fans are not too pleased with the name change stipulation arguing that many teams such as Beijing Guoan, Shanghai Shenhua and Henan Jianye have had their names for over 20 years.

With these new rules, it appears the CSL will be putting out an inferior product on the pitch in the years to come.

READ MORE: Guangzhou Evergrande Building World’s Largest Football Stadium

[Cover image via @Guangzhou_Evergrande_News/Weibo]

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