SHANGHAI, China, Jan 21 – Argentine forward Carlos Tevez said Saturday he will have to earn every yuan of his reportedly world-leading salary as he officially joined Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua, declaring it his “new home.”
Tevez, who arrived to a rapturous fan welcome Thursday, is arguably the highest-profile foreign player to ever play in China, one of a slew of overseas stars lured by increasingly lavish sums that have triggered a backlash from Chinese authorities.
The 32-year-old was introduced to local media Saturday and held his first workout with the club, sealing a deal that Argentine media said earns him around 38 million euros ($41 million) a year.
That would make him the world’s top-grossing footballer, out-pacing even megastars like compatriot Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tevez declined to comment on his contract, but acknowledged the circumstances brought dauntingly high expectations.
“There will probably be pressure, but because I love football very much I will use my passion for the sport. Even if there will be pressure I will forget about it on the field,” he told reporters.
“I know the CSL is getting tougher and tougher year after year, and this year will be extremely intense,” he said, speaking in Spanish through a Chinese interpreter.
He called the coming season “a very big challenge”.
A goal-scoring dynamo throughout his career for such heavyweights as Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus, and most recently Argentina’s Boca Juniors, Tevez arrived amid fierce debate in China over foreign player imports.
– Breaking the bank –
The deep-pocketed big corporations behind Super League clubs have broken the Asian transfer fee record five times over the past year, a spree that also has brought in Brazilians Oscar, Hulk, Alex Teixeira, and Ramires, and Colombia’s Jackson Martinez.
Oscar arrived from Chelsea earlier in January for a reported 60-million-euro ($63 million) fee, a new record for an Asian team.
But China has moved to break up the party, with the sports ministry earlier this month voicing fears that teams were spending “irrationally” and threatening to take action.
Calls also have grown for money to be instead channelled towards raising the disappointing level of Chinese football.
Despite its mammoth population of 1.3 billion people, China’s national team is ranked just 81st globally, one notch below Saint Kitts and Nevis, population 50,000.
This past week, the Chinese Football Association cut the number of foreign players that teams could field from four to no more than three per match, and said it was planning to impose salary caps.
Shenhua chairman Wu Xiaohui deflected financial questions, but said Tevez’s pay was “not as high as the rumours”.
He denied the team had spent recklessly and said the sudden crackdown had affected clubs’ preparations for the season, which opens in March.
“But what’s done is done and we can only obey and deal with it according to our situation,” he said.
With his nearly every utterance cheered by blue-clad Shenhua fans, Tevez likewise declined comment on the money controversy, saying he was focused on winning.
The warm welcome in Shanghai so far “made me realise that I have a new home,” said Tevez, who later took to a nearby pitch for a training session with the side.
Shenhua finished fourth in the Super League last year, qualifying for a berth in this year’s Asian Champions League. It will be skippered by coach Gustavo Poyet, a former Uruguay international who was hired in November.