The Chinese transfer perspective

A transfer window is among the most interesting periods in football, where the clubs can buy, sell or loan players, and it’s all about getting a stronger squad or is it?

The winter transfer window (January 2015) in China was among the biggest ever. The Chinese clubs spending second most euros of all countries in the World only England and the Premier League spending bigger.

This window has not been in silence as well in China Mainland bringing Demba Ba (Shanghai Shenhua), Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande) and lately Asamoah Gyan to my club Shanghai SIPG F.C.

So what’s the strategy behind and where does this cash flow come from?

To understand Chinese football – you need to understand the Chinese culture and the society in general. Nothing is a coincidence – everything is connected.

It all started with chairman Xi Jingping and the Party declaration making football the new number one sport in China in early 2015. Born and raised in the western World this can seem like a small thing and nothing we would actually see or feel in our daily life, but in China it’s the exact opposite.

To give an example; there was high schools in the country literally throwing out all basketballs and badminton balls the same day as the declaration now only allowing the students to touch a football.

More than 20.000 pitches are now being build all over China and 2,2 million Chinese elementary kids are now playing football three times a week after school at the school location.

Since the declaration the investments in professional Chinese football has also been massive. Not only in the Chinese Super League, but also in the League One (second best league).

In Tianjin the most interesting transfer happened last month. The Chinese national team player Sun Ke playing for Jiangsu Sainty in the Chinese Super League signed for a sponsor group connected to the club Tianjin TEDA – also in the Super League – as the most expensive domestic transfer ever in China - close to 10 million euros.

A high amount for a Chinese player and more interesting even Sun Ke only had 5 month left of his contract with Jiangsu and actually could have signed a pre-contract with TEDA on a free transfer.

And the story continues. The sponsor group signing Sun Ke could in the end not agree the terms with the club Tianjin TEDA and instead the sponsor group decided to buy Tianjin Songjiang – a club in the League One.

So without knowing Sun Ke actually signed for a League One club as a national team player of China.

But the story does not end here. Now Sun Ke is back at Jiangsu – playing until Tianjin Songjiang wins promotion to the Super League, so Jiangsu received 10 million euros and got the player back for free until Tianjin has promoted.

So what’s going on? It’s actually not about money. It’s about getting attention from the society, Party and to brand your company name. That’s why the sponsor group decided to make Sun Ke the most expensive player ever – instead of taking him on a free transfer a few months later.

To understand this logic it’s also important to describe the club structure in China as no club has a budget where income and outcome has to end with black numbers.

No Chinese club have black numbers in their finances and they don’t care as football is a part of their major business strategy and can be compared to if Maersk bought a Danish football club and set it up like a daughter company to promote the main businesses of Maersk.

So in many aspects the Chinese transfer window has a very different perspective compared to the European market we know.