If all the mid-tier European-quality players the Chinese Super League has bought this transfer window haven’t hammered home just how serious the league is about getting really good really fast, and if the purchase of potential top-end talents like Jackson Martínez and Alex Teixeira for gobs of money also failed to impress this upon you, then the news that one club reportedly put up €75 million to bring over Chelsea’s Oscar should solidify just how real this phenomenon is.
In a conversation with ESPN Brazil, Oscar’s agent confirmed that Chelsea had received the aforementioned offer from Jiangsu Suning, the team that just yesterday wrapped up the record-breaking Alex Teixeira deal. The club rejected the offer—understandably, since they can afford to turn down outrageous sums of money for a player they’d like to keep thanks to their owner’s nearly unlimited financial resources—and the agent made no mention on whether or not Oscar would’ve seriously entertained the prospect of trading England for China. Nonetheless, that Jiangsu Suning would feel so emboldened as to put in a concrete bid for a 24-year-old star on the reigning Premier League champions is revelatory on its own.
For so long, we’ve seen a familiar pattern play out among well-monied emerging leagues that seek to compete with the world’s biggest leagues. First, the budding league will target aging big-name players from famous clubs around the globe and lure them over with outsized contracts, supplementing those names with local talent whose quality they promise to enhance. As the league’s credibility among that particular class of player grows, they’ll try to bring in increasingly younger veterans. In the other direction, maybe one or two young players will choose to develop their games in this league for the money before springboarding to the top European clubs. The theory goes that only after a long track record of slowly cobbling together competitive rosters from both ends, either chiseling down on the standard age of the veterans or piling up on the number of years the younger talents stick around, will players in their prime finally choose the new frontier.
The Chinese league has taken this model and smashed it to pieces. In only a handful of years, the Super League has already burned through every one of those phases, and today—just three short years after starting at step one by signing pseudo-retiree Didier Drogba—they’ve already brought in Teixeira and Martínez and took a shot at a player like Oscar. There’s still no telling whether the league will go the way the Russian one has, struggling to keep up the pace after a period of intensive spending, but in any case, the Super League has already gone further than any league before.
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