Ever since the financial explosion in the league in the mid-2010s, the Chinese Super League has become a prime destination for a handful of the world’s best football players.
It was all done with the idea of the Asian nation turning itself into a powerhouse of the sport but it seems like it is all starting to crumble.
This will probably be looked back on as one of the most unique periods in footballing history and we’ve gathered the top ten most famous footballers who played in China during the past decade.
10. Ezequiel Lavezzi (Hebei FC)
Lavezzi, who reportedly cost Hebei €5.5 million from PSG, has been one of the more successful famous imports.
The 34-year-old has made 75 league appearances for Hebei, scoring 35 goals and making 26 assists during the 4 seasons spent in China. He then retired after the 2019 season.
After his last game in front of the Hebei CFFC fans, Ezequiel Lavezzi announced he will retire soon in the post-match interview. He scored a conciliatory diving header to add his goal-scoring record in CSL to 35, though Hebei were beaten by Guangzhou Evergrande 3:1 at home. pic.twitter.com/RivYuebADj
— Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) November 27, 2019
Wikileaks revealed that when he moved from Paris to Heibei in February 2016 it was for an estimated salary of €53m over 23 months.
9. Javier Mascherano (Hebei FC)
The Argentinian has spent two seasons in China with Hebei China Fortune, who paid €5.5m to secure his transfer.
After his first campaign with the club saw them narrowly miss out on qualification to the AFC Champions League, 2019 has seen Mascherano and his teammates struggle as they sit in the bottom half of the table.
He played 54 matches in China but didn’t manage to score a goal.
8. Alexandre Pato (TJ Quanjian)
The Brazilian forward was a world-beater on his day and was brought to China by Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro for €18m.
Alexandre Pato lights up the Chinese Super League with a stunning hat trick for Tianjin Quanjian ? pic.twitter.com/I1IJFtsMiI
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) October 27, 2018
Pato managed to grab himself 15 goals in each of his two seasons in the Chinese Super League, before leaving Tianjin Quanjian to return to Sao Paulo.
7. Ramires (Jiangsu Suning)
The ex-Chelsea star experienced a mixed stint in China. A debut red card was followed by a league debut goal and assist. 2016 saw Ramires almost lifted the CSL as his side Jiangsu Suning who splashed €28m for his signature came runners-up.
Like a lot of pairings though, the honeymoon period came to an end in 2018 with Ramires wanting to leave the club and Jiangsu opting to hold him to the deal he signed.
Eventually, the Brazilain was released in May 2019 after not playing since 2017.
6. Carlos Tevez (SH Shenhua)
Carlos Tevez did not fetch a huge transfer fee when he stunningly left Boca Juniors in Argentina to join Chinese powerhouse Shanghai Shenhua.
The Super League club paid just €10.5m for his services in January 2017 but also gave him an astronomical wage of over €24 million per season, or roughly 20 times what he was earning in Argentina.
It was not a productive spell in China with Tevez scoring just four goals in 20 appearances.
5. Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande)
This one is pretty strange. The Brazilian left Tottenham for China in 2015 for €19.7m after being labelled a Premier League flop, only to be signed for Barcelona two years later for €40m.
Happy birthday, Paulinho! ?
Rewind to his Guangzhou Evergrande debut ?pic.twitter.com/xtaZfADGwM
— Goal (@goal) July 25, 2020
A season in La Liga ended in a return to China for an even larger sum (€42m). Paulinho won the CSL title three times in a row, being especially instrumental in the 2016 campaign.
4. Jackson Martinez (Guangzhou Evergrande)
Signing for then-champions Guangzhou Evergrande for a league record fee of €42m, only for his record to be broken two days later (when Alex Teixeira broke that with his move), Martinez won the Chinese Super League in his debut season.
That being said, he has failed to impress, only scoring four goals in 2016 and making no appearances in the next two seasons before being loaned out to Portuguese side Portimonense.
3. Alex Teixera (Jiangsu Suning)
Alex Teixeira is on the lookout for a new club at the moment after his employer Jiangsu Suning ceased operations having paid €50m for his services in February 2016.
— #ACL2021 (@TheAFCCL) October 14, 2020
The Brazilian striker expressed his preference to join Liverpool at the time, but Jiangsu, had the cash and the ambition to secure the Brazilian’s arrival.
2. Hulk (Shanghai SIPG)
The powerful Brazilian was already used to playing in Asia due to his time in Japan during the early stages of his career.
After leaving Zenit St Petersburg for a fee of €55.8m in 2016, Hulk was stretchered off in his first match. Since then he has played 145 matches and scored 76 goals.
1. Oscar (Shanghai SIPG)
Having joined the London club for €32m in July 2012, Oscar spent four and a half seasons with Chelsea before opting for a change in scenery ahead of the January 2017 transfer window.
— SpiritOfGarrincha (@Futbolazo90) January 2, 2017
Beyond setting a new transfer record for the league – €62m – Oscar’s move saw a current Brazil international move from a top European side.
In his four seasons at Shanghai SIPG, Oscar has gone on to make 145 appearances and scored 45 goals with no sigs of heading back to Europe any time soon.