Depending on which reports you believe, Chinese Super League clubs are in the tank for Oscar, Arda Turan, Marouane Fellaini, Juan Mata, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and Ronaldo. As the league’s recent hiring spree shows, they have more money than they know what to do with, and when they wave the kinds of massive raises they’re offering at a series of European stars, people bite. The Super League has quietly had a decent stockpile of top-level talent for a few years, and now they’ve become the country for stars and near-stars to cash out and earn hilariously inflated paychecks. That league used to be MLS, but they can’t compete financially, and they probably don’t want to anymore.
One of the very good players the league managed to get near his prime was Obafemi Martins. Martins paired up with Clint Dempsey up in Seattle and the two made for a remarkably effective strike partnership, which at times was so good, Sigi Schmid would only lend them moderate support, relying on their interplay to generate goals. He worked his way back into the Nigerian national team picture, and now he’s off to Shanghai Shenhua to join Demba Ba, Freddy Guarin, and Tim Cahill. He had reported interest from the Premier League, but he’s almost assuredly getting a fat raise over in China.
Whether this is good for Martins is a pretty easy question. He’ll make a shit ton of money, and if he made it back to the national team based on his form in Seattle, he can do so in China again. It’s also pretty openly a good move for the Sounders. Martins was stronger and faster than most MLS defenders, and Seattle’s offense will have to shift without his easy chemistry with Dempsey as an anchor. But they probably got a decent amount of money, and they have a ready-made replacement in Jordan Morris. The young American will get every opportunity for playing time.
MLS is no longer just a league of some old dogs lazing around on a field of hapless Americans. The quality of the league has improved to the point where American clubs can buy, develop, and sell (or not sell) budding fringe internationals from countries like Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. But a lot of the league’s marketing relies on the idea that elite players choose North America because they’re invested in making soccer a thing on our shores.
If the league loses targets to China and sells off stars to the CSL, it will probably not be that big of a deal. Clint Dempsey isn’t leaving. Michael Bradley ain’t going anywhere (although he should). China’s incursion into the overpaying game will not challenge MLS’s ambition or kill the league or anything nearly that dramatic, but it could force a subtle shift, where MLS’s pipeline of out-of-contract 32-year-old Champion’s League winners shuts off. If that accelerates MLS’s shifting business model towards development through academies, good.
Photo via AP