China's football revolution challenges the Premier League
Some of the world's biggest players are heading east amid a footballing gold rush in China - but how long will it last?
Its economy may be faltering but China's burgeoning football league is going from strength to strength and could soon rival the Premier League in terms of transfer spending.
China, long regarded as a footballing backwater, is now second in the 2016 spending table, above Spain and with only the mighty Premier League ahead of it, reports Sky Sports. Four of the five biggest transfer deals so far this year involve Chinese clubs - and their transfer window does not close until the end of the month.
More and more players are heading east as clubs "buy into President Xi Jinping’s dream for the country to become a heavyweight in world football", says the Daily Mail. The Chinese leader's ambitions have prompted a "football gold rush" among companies and businesses keen to prove their dedication to the cause.
And although the Chinese Super League used to be regarded as a lucrative retirement home for ageing stars, increasingly the players involved are of Premier League standard and still have years ahead of them.
Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were well into their 30s when they swapped Chelsea for Shanghai in 2012, but the latest big money arrival is 29-year-old Jackson Martinez. This week, he joined Guangzhou Evergrande from Atletico Madrid for a mammoth £31.5m fee, the biggest paid this year. Significantly, he chose to move to China despite interest from clubs in Europe, including Premier League high-flyers Tottenham Hotspur.
Last month, Chelsea offloaded Ramires, 28, to Jiangsu Suning for £21m, while former Arsenal player Gervinho, also 28 and a better player than Gunners fans will remember, joined Hebei China Fortune for £13.5m.
Managers including Sven-Goran Eriksson, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Dan Petrescu are also now plying their trades in the Far East.
"China's spending power is expected by Fifa analysts to keep rising and the clubs have the funds to sign top stars," says The Times.
With China aiming to one day host a World Cup, the country's wealthiest are responding to the "political signals to invest in football", says the Financial Times. "The booming transfer market in China comes amid an influx of money into the Chinese game, driven by tycoons seeking political favours but also by genuine optimism about the prospects for football in the country as it seeks to develop sports."
However, the influx of foreign talent could have a negative consequence, rather as it did in the US in the late 1970s.
Money that "could be spent on training young players [is] instead going into transfer fees and salaries", says the Mail. Furthermore, President Xi only has two terms in office and unless his successor is also a football fan, China's politically led football revolution could come to an abrupt end.
"Recent history suggests not all big-name moves end well," warns the FT. Drogba and Anelka lasted only one season in Shanghai after joining in 2012, and left "amid reports that they were not paid the salaries promised them".