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China tightens clampdown ahead of football transfer window

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In the latest Asian-record transfer, Chelsea midfielder Oscar moved to Shanghai SIPG for $67 million © AFP / Johannes EISELE

SHANGHAI, China, May 25 – The Chinese Football Association has stepped up its fight against spiralling big-money deals for foreign players by announcing prohibitive new curbs, less than a month before the next transfer window opens.

The CFA said loss-making clubs which pay a transfer fee for a new player must invest an equivalent amount in a government-run fund set up to cultivate Chinese youth players and promote football for “the public good”.

The CFA also said that starting in the 2018 season, clubs will be required to field an equivalent number of foreign players and under-23 Chinese players in each game.

The measures are intended to discourage clubs from the “pursuit of short-term results, blindly one-upping each other, high-priced acquisitions, and actions that drive up prices”, the CFA said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The moves follow rocketing deals which reportedly put Ezequiel Lavezzi and Carlos Tevez among the world’s best-paid players, and saw Chinese clubs smash the Asian transfer record five times within 12 months.

President Xi Jinping has said he wants to see China host and eventually win a World Cup, a big ask for a national side that consistently punches below its weight in football and is currently ranked 81 in the world.

But the top companies and wealthy entrepreneurs who own Chinese clubs have answered Xi’s call by rushing to buy stakes in overseas clubs and to import foreign players in a series of high-profile signings.

– ‘Irrational’ spending –

In the latest Asian-record transfer, Chelsea midfielder Oscar moved to Shanghai SIPG for 60 million euros ($67 million) as Chinese clubs splashed a record 388 million euros in the January-February transfer window.

But the flood of cash has prompted a backlash from the government, which is increasingly worried about larger issues of irresponsible spending and borrowing as China’s economic growth slows.

The government has singled out football spending as particularly “irrational” and earlier this year issued verbal warnings for clubs to cease and desist or face disciplinary action, and also threatened to impose future salary caps.

Starting this season, clubs also are now limited to fielding no more than three foreign players per match, down from the previous four, and must have at least two under-23 Chinese players per game, including at least one in the starting line-up.

But the new requirement that clubs match transfer fees with investment in youth football marks the first known instance of a specific financial measure aimed at curbing big signings.

With high transfer fees and wage bills likely to push some clubs into the red, the announcement looks set to affect the upcoming transfer window which opens on June 19.

Diego Costa has been persistently linked with a megabucks move to Tianjin Quanjian, although the club this week denied having any contact with the Chelsea striker this year.

Tianjin also vowed to avoid any “excessive” spending and said it would contribute to the “sustainable development” of the Chinese Super League, in a statement that chimed with the CFA’s stance.

Table-topping Guangzhou Evergrande, winners of the last six Super League titles, earlier this year announced plans to field a Chinese-only squad by 2020, despite years of success based on big-money foreign signings.

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