From Hulk to ‘Violent Bird’, five to watch in Chinese Super League

Suzhou (China) (AFP) – The Chinese Super League has made headlines in recent years by attracting foreign players and coaches on vast wages.

Ahead of the new season which kicks off on Saturday, five months late because of coronavirus, AFP Sport picks out the players to watch:

– Paulinho (Guangzhou Evergrande/BRA) –

The Brazilian international midfielder turns 32 on the opening day of the season, when Evergrande face FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua, and is a major force for the reigning champions.

Nicknamed “Violent Bird” in China because of his all-action style, the former Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur star has won the CSL four times and is also an Asian Champions League winner.

– Marouane Fellaini (Shandong Luneng/BEL) –

The towering 32-year-old is the only CSL player known to have caught the coronavirus and spent three weeks in hospital until his release in mid-April.

But he was not seriously unwell and the former Manchester United star, who can play in midfield or as a menace up front, should be fit to start the season.

– Marko Arnautovic (Shanghai SIPG/AUT) –

The Austrian forward joined from West Ham United last summer for a reported 25 million euros and has scored 10 goals in 16 appearances for Vitor Pereira’s side. 

Now 31, the sometimes surly Arnautovic could turn out to be the last major foreign signing in Chinese football after a transfer tax and salary cap put a dampener on spending.

– Hulk (Shanghai SIPG/BRA) –

Like fellow Brazilian Paulinho, Hulk celebrates his birthday on Saturday, when he will turn 34. 

The bulldozer of a forward looks likely to make this his final year at SIPG but his rock-solid frame and lethal left foot still make him a threat. 

SIPG’s captain and talisman has hit 69 goals in 125 appearances, also weighing in with 53 assists.

– Oscar (Shanghai SIPG/BRA) –

Another from SIPG, the Brazilian attacking midfielder cost 60 million euros from Chelsea in January 2017 — still an Asian transfer record. 

Twice a Premier League champion with Chelsea, the 28-year-old has topped the CSL assists charts over the last two seasons with 66 in 123 appearances.

And not forgetting the coaches…

Rafa Benitez, who took Liverpool to Champions League glory in 2005, is in his second year at Dalian Pro and will expect to do better than last season’s disappointing mid-table finish.

Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian World Cup-winning captain in 2006, was close to the sack at Evergrande last year before guiding them to the CSL title. 

Portuguese coach Pereira, who masterminded SIPG’s first league title in their history in 2018, was strongly linked with Everton in December. 

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