SHANGHAI, China, Jan 19 – Argentine striker Carlos Tevez arrived Thursday to a rousing welcome from hundreds of fans in Shanghai, where he will join local side Shenhua in a deal that reportedly makes him the world’s top-earning footballer.
Tevez, 32, is the highest-profile foreign player lured to China’s free-spending domestic leagues in a recent gold rush that has triggered a backlash from Chinese authorities worried that clubs were recklessly overspending on foreign stars.
Police at Shanghai’s main international airport bundled the smiling Tevez through a crowd of blue-clad Shenhua fans who thronged the arrival hall, bursting into chants of “Carlos! Carlos!” when he emerged. He was whisked away without making any comment.
Tevez’s arrival from Argentine club Boca Juniors comes two weeks after that of Brazilian star Oscar, who joined cross-town Shanghai rivals SIPG under a 60-million-euro ($63 million) deal from Chelsea that smashed the Asian transfer fee record.
Tevez, a goal-scoring dynamo throughout his career for such heavyweights as Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus, came on a relatively paltry transfer fee of 10.5 million euros, according to deal-tracking website transfermarkt.com.
But Argentine media said he will make around 38 million euros per year under his two-year Chinese contract, out-earning even megastars like compatriot Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
– Foreign invasion –
Tevez and Oscar joined a slew of record-breaking transfers to the Chinese Super League over the past year, which also brought in Brazilians Hulk, Alex Teixeira, and Ramires, and Colombia’s Jackson Martinez.
Tevez, however, is arguably the top foreign player ever to join a Chinese side, perhaps rivalled only by former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast, who played for Shenhua in 2012.
But Tevez may be the last big-name import for some time.
On January 6, the sports ministry warned it would take action against teams that spend “irrationally,” expressing fears that clubs could become insolvent.
The lavish sums have also spurred calls for money to be instead channelled towards raising the disappointing level of Chinese football.
The national team of China, the world’s most populous country with 1.3 billion people, is ranked just 81st in the world, one notch below Saint Kitts and Nevis, population 50,000.
This week, the Chinese Football Association cut the number of foreign players that top-flight teams could field from four to no more than three per match once the 2017 season kicks off in March.
Teams also will be required to field at least two under-23 Chinese players to help develop young domestic footballers.
The abrupt change caught some teams off-guard.
Shu Yuhui, the chairman of Super League side Tianjin Quanjian, told state media this week the clampdown scuppered his team’s plans to buy Chelsea’s Spanish striker Diego Costa and other Europe-based stars.
Since the sports ministry’s edict, only one major foreign signing has taken place: Tianjin TEDA snagged Chelsea’s Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel for about 8.5 million euros, according to transfermarktweb.com.
Shenhua finished fourth in the Super League last season, earning a berth in the forthcoming Asian Champions League competition.
“I hope Tevez can bring more glory to Shenhua,” said Yan Xiang, a fan who joined the throng at the airport.
“I’m not asking for us to win (the Asian Champions League), it would just be good to get into the top eight. That’s my hope for Shenhua,” he said.
Another recent arrival at Shenhua who has fuelled fan hopes is incoming head coach Gustavo Poyet, a former Uruguay international and mid-fielder for Real Zaragoza, Chelsea and Tottenham who was hired in November.