Chinese Super League’s most expensive signings and how they fared


For years, China and the Chinese Super League have been known as the place players go for a big payday.

Leaving elite European football behind, countless players of varying abilities sought to earn big bucks in the Far East, often heavily criticized by the fans they left behind.

Chinese clubs like Guangzhou, Port of Shanghai and many more have received seemingly endless sums of money as China seek to become one of the best footballing nations in the world.

It was all part of a ridiculously ambitious program established by the Chinese Football Association in 2016 that sought to fulfill President Xi Jinping’s desire that China win the world cup by 2030. He planned to have one football pitch for 10,000 people, with the ambition of having 50 million people actively practicing the sport in the country.

Safe to say that eight years after the release of the Football Association’s schedule, things haven’t quite gone to plan. China again failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2022, finishing fifth out of six in their third-round qualifying group for Qatar.

As a result, investment in gambling is drying up fast. But who were the 10 most expensive purchases in Chinese Super League history and how did they fare in the country?

10. Marko Arnautovic

Arnautovic’s desire to leave West Ham turned into a complicated divorce in January 2019.

The Austria international asked to be sold after the club rejected numerous offers for him, and eventually he went to Shanghai SIPG (now Port of Shanghai) for a fee of £22.5million .

Such was the extent of the bad feelings between the two sides, West Ham didn’t even include a thank you in their announcement.

It was obvious why he wanted to leave, with his salary rising to £10million a year in China.

He has scored 19 goals in 28 Chinese Super League appearances but after joining Bologna at the start of the 2021-22 season he openly admits he hasn’t taken the league seriously.

“I underestimated him. I didn’t train. I didn’t take care of my body,” he said of his time in the Chinese Super League.

“I was eating. I was drinking soft drinks – Sprite, Coca Cola, Fanta – all these sugary drinks that are not good for the body.

“I woke up at three, four in the afternoon, went to practice, stayed up all night, eating at the wrong time.”

9. Ramires

Ramires won it all with Chelsea, so when a big payday with the now defunct Jiangsu Suning, we’re not sure too many people could blame him.

The Brazilian cost £25m and didn’t have much. He scored just 11 goals and assisted five times in the league in nearly 50 appearances over three years.

He’s not officially retired but hasn’t been at a club since Palmerias released him in 2020 and it’s safe to say his footballing days are probably behind him.

READ: A love letter to Ramires and his perfectly timed moment of magic

8. Antoine Modeste

Between 2015 and 2017, Modeste became one of Germany’s most powerful goalscorers.

He scored an incredible 40 goals for Cologne in two Bundesliga seasons, including 25 in 2016-17. No one who saw his torrid loan spell at Blackburn Rovers in 2012 could have ever predicted that.

Was a move to a bigger European team planned? Of course it was, but then Tianjin offered him and the club huge sums of money.

Except that things from then on didn’t exactly go smoothly. He was first loaned to the Chinese club for two years with an option to buy… which was activated almost immediately, paying Cologne £26million. It probably came in clean, unmarked tickets.

In 2018, Modeste went AWOL until he signed a new contract with, you guessed it, Koln. He was still under contract in China but sued his former club to void his contract there. He, in turn, was the subject of a counter-suit.

Such was the chaos it took former European Parliament President Martin Schulz to ensure things were resolved and he could play for Cologne.

Tianjin? Well, they were accused of being involved in a multi-level marketing scheme and went out of business in 2020. We like to think Modeste planned their downfall himself.

7. Yannick Carrasco

“Wait a minute, isn’t he still playing for Atletico Madrid?” we hear you say. Yes, but this is technically his third stint with the club.

Despite being only 24 at the time, the Belgium international signed for Chinese side Dalian Professional in 2018 for £27m.

This decision was made more suspicious by the fact that Dalian was owned by a Chinese company called the Wanda Group, which also partly owned Atletico Madrid (yes, that’s why it’s the Wanda Metropolitano).

But it also made it easy for him to return to Atletico in 2020, first on loan and then on a permanent basis for roughly the same fee as before.

Although he regularly admits that he wanted to return to Europe, his record in China was quite impressive as he registered 24 goals and 17 assists in 50 league appearances.

6. Cedric Bakambu

Bakambu’s move from Villarreal to Beijing Guoan involved more than a little creative accounting.

Villarreal announced his departure in 2018 for a whopping £36m (of which their reinvestment played no small part in helping them to a Champions League semi-final), but Guoan did not announce his purchase for a few weeks after.

They were trying to avoid paying a 100% tax on foreign arrivals that cost more than a certain amount, but there was a problem: he had already played and scored.

Eventually, they paid the tax and Bakambu helped them win the CFA Cup in his first season. He also scored 48 Chinese Super League goals before returning to Europe with Marseille in 2022.

5. Jackson Martinez

The year is 2015, you’ve loaded up the FIFA Ultimate team, managed to put the pieces together, and put together an absolutely overpowered cheap Portuguese League squad.

Forward and center of that was none other than Jackson Martinez, who dominated the Portuguese league in real life just like he did in the game.

He went and ruined it of course. From 67 league goals in 90 appearances for Porto between 2012 and 2015 to just two in 15 in a disastrous season with Atletico Madrid. Then in 2016, Guangzhou Evergrande paid the inexplicably huge sum of £37.8m for him.

He became Chinese champions that year, scoring four goals in 10 league appearances, but failed to make another appearance for the club in the following three years after an ankle injury. He stayed on the sidelines while earning €12million a year and was heavily criticized for not making the effort to get fit.

He then had his contract terminated and joined Portomiense for free, where he played for another two half-hearted seasons before retiring in 2020.

4. Paulinho

Paulinho was just another of those Premier League flops signing for a Chinese Super League side when he joined Guangzhou from Tottenham in 2015 for around £12m.

But here’s the thing, unlike almost everyone on this list, Paulinho earned himself a huge career move out of China on merit. He signed for Barcelona for £36million just 18 months after joining the Chinese side, having established himself as the country’s best player.

He won La Liga and the Copa del Rey in his only season at Barcelona before being loaned out to Guangzhou, who bought him for £37.8million.

The midfielder won his third Chinese Super League title in his second spell at the club before leaving China for good in 2021.

3. Alex Teixeira

Teixeira was one of Shakhtar Donetsk’s standout Brazilian players and his transfer to Jiangsu Suning certainly raised some eyebrows.

He was previously linked with Liverpool in January 2016 and Jiangsu Suning splashed out £45million on the attacking midfielder a few weeks later.

The 32-year-old did well in China, winning the league in 2020… just before his side went bankrupt and he had to leave on a free transfer.


Hulk by name, Hulk by nature. It cost the Port of Shanghai a ridiculous £50million to sign him from St Petersburg in 2016.

The striker scored 77 goals in 145 appearances for the club, helping them win the Chinese Super League and Chinese FA Super Cup before returning to Brazil in 2021.

Oh, and he was pretty good there too.

READ: Brazil watch out: Diego Costa and Hulk target glory at Atletico


We know why Oscar left Chelsea in January 2017 for the port of Shanghai, but even though he’s getting all the money in the world, that doesn’t make the decision any more palatable.

The £54m that was paid to Chelsea for his signing is by far the biggest on this list, and it probably won’t top Chinese football history, at least for a very, very long time.

It’s hard not to see him as a wasted talent, but there’s an understandable element to why he made the decision he did.

“I come from a very poor social background in Brazil. We had nothing,” he said. said a few years ago. “It’s the fruit of my labor and when I win it, it’s because I conquered it.

“China has incredible financial power and sometimes makes offers players can’t refuse.”

The midfielder has been widely talked about potentially returning to Chelsea at some point, but he’s under contract until 2024 and something big would have to happen for that to happen.

Still, he has incredible numbers for Shanghai; 170 games, 50 goals and (get ready) 93 assists while winning the Chinese Super League once. Tantalizing stats, just like the amount of money he earns.

By Patrick Ryan

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