The silent revolution started by Chinese football authorities is spreading like fire in harmattan season. Odion Ighalo’s 20 million pound move to Changchum Yatai last night on the transfer deadline day capped the drift to the Far East. Before Yatai secured the signature of the Super Eagles forward, Shanghai Shenhua was also reported to have tabled offers for the 27-year-old Nigerian forward.
Three other clubs from the Chinese Super League were also linked to the striker who dropped out of the pecking order at Watford.
Before Ighalo’s move, his Eagles Captain, John Mikel Obi had left Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge recently to pitch tenth with Tianjin Teda in the early days of the January winter window.
Other Nigerian players like Anthony Ujah, John Utaka, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, Garba Lawal and several others had gone to the Asian country to earn some of the mouth-watery wages they are paying.
Before the sudden rush of Nigerian players for the cash on offer in China, the likes of former Manchester United star, Carlo Tevez had ‘seen the light’, moving to the CSL for a record transfer fee of $41million-a-year contract at Shanghai Shenhua.
Tevez sealed a two-year deal with the Chinese Super League team, which paid an $11 million fee to his former club Boca Juniors for the transfer.
According to reports from China, the breakdown of Tevez’s enormous new earning power makes for eye-watering reading; his contract nets him a gross $808,000 a week, $115,000 a day, $4,800 an hour or $80 a minute! Although he has since denied the figures but those close to the Argentine international insists the figures are very close to the fact of the matter.
Officially, Tevez has become the world’s highest-paid footballer!
Italy’s Grazziano Pelle, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gervinho, Hulk, Alex Teixeira, Gael Kakuta, Demba Ba, Carlo Tevez, Ramirez, these are just some of the other top players whose skills will be on display when the new season kicks off early February. Brazil international Oscar moved from Chelsea to Shenhua’s city rivals Shanghai SIPG for a reported £60 million ($73 million).
But what exactly is the pull why big players from the European league are trooping to China?
Qasim Elegbede, Content Marketing Manager of StarTimes pay TV channel that has the broadcast rights to air the Chinese Super League in Nigeria and other countries in Sub Saharan Africa told a select sports writers at the weekend that the desire to bring quality to the league is what is behind the high wages attracting most of the big names in Europe.
“The reason for the influx of foreign players into the Chinese Super League is not far-fetched. The Chinese want to improve their league, starting with some of the best quality players they can get. Mind you, when the Chinese set their mind to get something they get the job done. It is with that spirit that they want to succeed with this football league they have started,” observed Elegbede, a former sports journalist with Complete Communications Limited, publishers of Complete Sports titles.
He insisted that Nigerians should not forget that China is the most populous country in the world and has a very strong economy.
“We should not forget that they are the most populous nation in the world and they are passionate about football. So this is why they are luring the big boys from European leagues, from the South American leagues and others around the world to come and teach their boys how to play. And of course in a matter of time I believe the league will become one to reckon with. Make no mistake, when the Chinese set their mind on something, they often get it done. They achieve their goal,” he noted.
Despite the fears in certain quarters that the high wages may not be sustainable, Elegbede begs to differ. “It is an interesting model right now. When compared with players’ wages in Europe and South American countries, it is outrageous. But one fact we should not forget is that; In the last seven years why are the big teams in Europe rushing to do their preseason training Asia? Why do they go there? They all know that the population is there, the purchasing power is there also. They know also that they have the money to spend. So I am not really surprised at the sudden rush for big players to go to China. I believe they have the economy to sustain it.”
He expressed his satisfaction with the fact that StarTimes has the right to showcase the CSL to Nigerians. “Speaking from StarTimes perspective, it is good that we are starting with them very early in the life of the league. We believe that in the next couple of years from now, the Chinese League will become so big like the German Bundesliga, the English Premier League or even the Spanish La Liga that the struggle to get a piece of the action will become very stiff. We are lucky to be with them as the only platform to see the league in Sub Sahara Africa. Take for instance, John Mikel Obi is captain of Nigeria’s Super Eagles. Where does he play now? He plays in China. How can Nigerians monitor his progress if this platform for the Chinese League is not here? How do you know if he merits being called to play for Eagles if you don’t see his play? This does not apply to just Mikel. The Chinese League now has a chunk of players in the diaspora. There are players from Europe, South America, Africa and from other continents. I can go on to reel out some of the popular players in Europe who are now regular part of the league.
“You can see that it is not just a place for players on the verge of retirement to go and earn pension. You can see both old and young players who are playing there and earning good wages. The very essence of bringing big players to the Chinese League is for their young players to learn and become skillful.
While admitting that such players as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka may have had not too satisfying time in the CSL, two previous World Cup winners Marcelo Lippi and Filipe Scolari are working to improve the quality in China.
The StarTimes executive dismissed Gernot Rohr’ warning to younger Nigerian players to forget playing for Eagles if they go to play in China.
“Such a generalized statement ought not to come from an experienced coach of Rohr’s calibre. Do you remember former Indomitable Lions of Cameroon player Patrick Mboma where he was playing when he led his country to beat Super Eagles in the final of the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations at the main-bowl of the National Stadium in Lagos? He was playing in Japan’s J-League. It is not right for anyone to say that because you are playing in the Chinese League it is not proper to play for the national team. Mboma was playing the J-League yet caused Nigerians heartaches when Cameroon defeated us to lift the trophy. I believe that if Rohr sees a good Nigerian talent in the Chinese League he will not hesitate to invite him to Eagles.”