Solving the naturalization conundrum

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, November 27, 2019
Adjust font size:
Ai Kesen (right) and Li Ke this year became Team China's first ever naturalized players. Brazil-born Ai Kesen's selection garnered extra attention given he has no Chinese heritage, with the CFA now looking to limit clubs to two such players per squad. XINHUA

Ever since Brazil-born Ai Kesen's groundbreaking debut in the red of Team China, debate has raged on the issue of naturalized players in Chinese soccer.

The Guangzhou Evergrande forward, aka Elkeson, became the first player without Chinese heritage to play for the national team in a September World Cup qualifier in the Maldives. He joined England-born Li Ke, who has a mother of Chinese origin, as the squad's second naturalized player.

The question of just how far the Chinese Football Association might take their naturalization policy has inevitably arisen, with some fans even concerned that homegrown players could one day be in the minority in the domestic game.

According to Beijing Youth Daily, the CFA and representatives of the 16 Chinese Super League clubs met in Shanghai on Monday to address potential rule changes on naturalized players, with a number of eyecatching proposals emerging from the summit that could be enforced next season.

Perhaps the most significant proposal of all is that naturalized players with Chinese ancestry will be classified as homegrown and, as such, will be subject to the same rules, including the salary cap, that domestic players must adhere to.

It is reported that the CFA wants to permit each CSL club to register a maximum of two naturalized players without Chinese heritage, but with only one allowed on the pitch at the same time.

This season, clubs have been permitted four foreigners in match-day squads, with three allowed on the pitch simultaneously.

Current CSL leader Evergrande, which is expected to wrap up a record-extending eighth domestic title on Sunday, would appear to have the most to lose from the would-be policy.

Evergrande striker Ai Kesen has reportedly been assisting the club in efforts to persuade more players to join its naturalized ranks, meaning some could be facing up to loan spells elsewhere.

"Right now only Guangzhou Evergrande and Shandong Luneng have naturalized players without Chinese heritage, and under the new policy, it seems that Evergrande can only keep Ai Kesen and Ricardo Goulart," soccer reporter Zhao Yu wrote on social media.

"In the future, it will be much harder for new naturalized players without Chinese heritage to enter Chinese professional leagues."

While Ai Kesen has helped level up standards at Evergrande and the national team, splashing out on foreigners not as feasible for clubs with lesser financial resources.

That has led to fears that unregulated naturalization could widen the gap between the haves and have-nots as powerhouses like Evergrande could choose to inject more foreign talent into their squads, thereby extending their trophy collections and growing their coffers.

Striking the right balance between upping playing standards and giving young homegrown talent enough minutes on the pitch is also a concern.

Salary cap

Monday's meeting in Shanghai also discussed implementing a stricter salary cap.

Last Wednesday, a CFA statement demanded that all clubs delay the signing of new contracts for domestic players in its top three tiers. The CFA said the move was in the interests of all professional clubs and the healthy development of Chinese soccer.

Beijing Youth Daily reported that CSL players' salaries will remain capped at 10 million yuan ($1.4 million), but it's expected that efforts will be increased to clamp down on clubs that try to exploit loopholes in the rules. Caps of 6 million yuan and 3 million yuan will apply to second-and third-tier teams, respectively.

It is also proposed that any player earning the uppermost level of the cap-10 million yuan-will require the club's permission if he wants to transfer teams.

Moreover, each club will be permitted one so-called "Super Foreign Player", whose transfer fee should not exceed 25 million euros ($28 million), with no limits on his salary.

This proposal, however, did not go down well with a number of clubs, who argued that the "super" player's unlimited salary may breach existing rules on investment and could potentially be damaging to a squad's overall cohesion.

A final round of talks is scheduled for early December when the CFA will hope to iron out these details.

Ultimately, the CFA hopes any rule changes are fair and to the benefit of the Chinese game, particularly youth development.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from