Shanghai (AFP) – Wayne Rooney led the big names linked with a move to China but in the end the only arrivals were striker Anthony Modeste and a cast mostly of freebies, loanees and has-beens.
Experts and insiders say a 100 percent tax on foreign imports and befuddling last-minute changes to Chinese transfer rules ensured the transfer window in the country fizzled to a close on Friday.
A source close to talks to bring an English Premier League star to China said that confusion over the rules had greatly complicated the move and negotiations eventually broke down.
Chinese Super League (CSL) clubs shelled out record-breaking sums in the winter transfer window, heralding the arrival for 60 million euros ($69 million) of Brazilian Oscar to Shanghai SIPG.
Carlos Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua on similarly world-leading wages, while Belgian international Axel Witsel, Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato and the Nigerian John Obi Mikel all left European football for China on handsome contracts.
But the Beijing government and Chinese Football Association (CFA), fearing that domestic players were being squeezed out, in May proposed a prohibitive rule that every time a club in debt spent on an import, they would have to pay the same amount again to a fund for developing the local game.
Even as the summer transfer window opened on June 19, the CFA was tweaking its policy, saying that the 100 percent levy would kick in on foreign players costing more than 45 million yuan ($6.6 million, 5.8 million euros) and Chinese over 20 million yuan.
Tianjin Quanjian, strongly linked in the winter with Chelsea striker Diego Costa, seemed determined to snare a forward.
They got their man in French marksman Modeste and appeared to get round the transfer rules by signing him on what German daily Bild said was a two-year loan for about six million euros, with an option to buy for 29 million euros.
Rooney left Manchester United but instead of China returned to Everton, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — also rumoured to be off to China — remains at Borussia Dortmund.
– ‘Killed the market’ –
Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at University of Salford in Manchester, said the transfer tax and limits on the number of foreign players to three a match “killed” the market.
Chinese clubs were under heavy pressure from the government — which has made improving the national side’s fortunes a priority and at the same time is concerned about capital flight — to stop spending on foreign talent, he said.