Beijing (AFP) – Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande have announced plans to field a Chinese-only squad by 2020, official media said on Tuesday, in a surprise turnaround after years of success based on big-money foreign signings.
Evergrande have won the Chinese Super League for the last six season, plus the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015, with the help of mainly South American firepower and top foreign managers.
Evergrande, sometimes tagged the “Manchester United of Asia”, have been imitated by other well-heeled Chinese teams with spending on players soaring over the past year.
But club boss and real estate tycoon Xu Jiayin said he planned to strip out all foreign players by the end of this decade, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
“In my view, the ideal all-Chinese squad for Evergrande is composed of a world top manager and all native players,” Xu was quoted as saying at an event before the start of the Chinese season.
“Our purpose… is to contribute to the development of Chinese football and all our work needs to be focused on this.”
Xu’s comments follow an official crackdown on “irrational” spending after Chinese clubs broke the Asian transfer record five times in a year and reportedly made Oscar and Carlos Tevez the world’s best paid players.
Chinese authorities said they would rein in transfer fees and cap wages, while cutting the number of foreign players each team can use from four per match to three.
On Tuesday, the Beijing Youth Daily said Super League teams would automatically forfeit games 3-0 this season if they don’t field at least one under-23 Chinese player.
– ‘Run the club as a business’ –
Evergrande are jointly owned by the Evergrande Group real estate giant and China’s e-commerce titan Alibaba.
But Xu signalled a more stringent financial approach for the club when he said: “Our revenue comes mainly from ticket sales, which are not good enough to cover our expenses, and we have to run the club as a business.
“We need to increase our earnings through player exchanges and build up the team through young player training instead of buying.”
When contacted by AFP, Evergrande said it had no comment on the Xinhua report.
The team’s roster currently includes five foreign players: Colombia’s Jackson Martinez, Brazilians Ricardo Goulart, Paulinho and Alan, and Kim Young-Gwon of South Korea.
Their manager is ex-Brazil, Portugal and Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari, who took over in 2015. Evergrande also won the Champions League in 2013 under another World Cup-winning coach, Italy’s Marcello Lippi.
In 2016, China was one of the world’s top five spenders on international football talent, doubling its payouts from the previous year to $451 million.
Shanghai SIPG bought striker Hulk for more than $55 million while Jiangsu Suning bought another Brazilian striker Alex Teixeira for more than $50 million.
Just before the curbs were announced last month, spending had shot up even further with SIPG paying a reported $63 million for Brazilian midfielder Oscar.
And Argentina’s Tevez had reportedly scored a 38 million euro annual paycheck to go to Shanghai Shenhua, which would make the 32-year-old the world’s highest earning footballer.
While the mind-boggling deals put Chinese football in the international spotlight, they also drew condemnation from domestic fans, who called for teams to spend more on cultivating home-grown talent.
China’s national team is currently ranked a lowly 86th in the world, just behind Qatar with its population of around 2.6 million compared with China’s 1.3 billion.