How European stars fared in the Chinese Super League

Oscar is worshipped, Carlos Tevez described his stint as a ‘holiday’ and Marko Arnautovic underestimated the quality as he DIDN’T train… here’s how 10 European stars fared in the Chinese Super League after big money moves

  • The Chinese Super League is known for offering players lucrative pay packets  
  • Big names have used the league to either revive or see out their playing careers 
  • Marko Arnautovic has admitted he underestimated the Chinese Super League
  • Sportsmail have rounded up 10 lucrative deals to see how those players fared 

The Chinese Super League is renowned for lucrative pay packets attracting many of Europe’s biggest names – but how have they fared since making the switch?

Marko Arnautovic recently admitted to underestimating the Chinese Super League after joining Shanghai SIPG for £23million in July 2019. The former West Ham forward said that he didn’t treat the league with sufficient respect as he didn’t train properly or look after his body.

With the CSL’s quality below that of the European top-flights, a number of high-profile footballers have been making the trip to the Far East to see out the end of their career or to alternatively rediscover their form. 

Ex-West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic admitted he underestimated the Chinese Super League

Though, for many the switch wasn’t quite what they had expected. Ramires was dropped to the Jiansu Suning reserve team, while Anthony Modeste was threatened with legal action.

The move was, however, worth it for Paulinho who caught the attention of European giants Barcelona and Odion Ighalo, who landed himself a spot in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side.     

Sportsmail have rounded up 10 of China’s most lucrative deals to see who sacrificed their career for a hefty payday and who thrived in the Far East. 

Years in China: 2017-Present

Teams: Shanghai SIPG

The Brazilian playmaker, Oscar, has become a hero for Shanghai SIPG since moving to China in 2017.

Oscar agreed to sign a four-year deal with Shanghai worth £20.8m – making him one of the world’s highest-paid players at the time. 

Having finished runners-up in the Super League in 2017, Oscar’s debut season saw Vitor Pereira’s side secure the title for the first time in the club’s history.

Oscar played a pivotal role in their success by providing 19 assists – beating Renato Augusto and Hulk’s tally for the season.

Proving that the CSL is not a graveyard for footballers, Oscar went on to add a further 12 goals to his tally in all competitions.

The Brazilian playmaker, Oscar, has become a hero in Shanghai since moving to China in 2017 


Years in China: 2015-17, 2018-Present

Teams:  Guangzhou Evergrande

Like those before him, Paulinho was accused of chasing the money when he left Tottenham for the CSL in 2015. 

Despite criticism of him signing for Guangzhou Evergrande for £13m, Paulinho insisted the transfer was solely down to footballing reasons. 

Since singing for the Chinese side, Paulinho has transformed from the player who struggled to make Tottenham’s squad to a top class footballer. 

Under World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s tutelage, Paulinho has helped his team win two league titles, one domestic cup and the Asian Champions League. 

Having impressed during his first stint in China, the Brazilian went on to spend a season at Barcelona before rejoining the seven-time Chinese champions in July 2018.  

Paulinho was accused of chasing the money when he left White Hart Lane for the CSL in 2015

Axel Witsel

Years in China: 2017-18

Teams: Tianjin Quanjian

Axel Witsel turned down a move to Juventus in favour of a lucrative deal from Chinese outfit Tianjin Quanjian in 2017.

Witsel snubbed the Italian giants for a £255,000-a-week deal but still managed to develop under Tianjin boss and 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro.

Witsel also scored Tianjin’s first-ever goal in the Chinese Super League as they finished their debut season in third place.

He did, however, admit to missing ‘top level’ football and has since returned from the Far East to sign a four-year deal with Borussia Dortmund.

Axel Witsel turned down a move to Juventus in favour of a lucrative deal with Tianjin Quanjian

Mousa Dembele

Years in China: 2019-Present

Team: Guangzhou R&F

Mousa Dembele, who made 249 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham since joining for £15m from Fulham in 2012, signed for Guangzhou R&F in January 2019. 

In his first 11 matches for the Chinese side, Dembele scored one goal and registered four assists, despite previously experiencing a drought on that front at Spurs. 

During his career at Tottenham, Dembele only ever scored 10 goals despite playing nearly 250 games.

When speaking of his transfer to China, Dembele said: ‘I like to see myself as open-minded. That is one of the reasons I wanted to come to China. I wanted to see something different.

‘I wanted to have a different experience in life. I heard already there is good food in Guangzhou. I will try this a lot. I think my family will enjoy it as well here.’ 

In his first 11 games for Guangzhou R&F Mousa Dembele scored one goal and got four assists

Alex Teixeira

Years in China: 2016-Present

Team: Jiangsu Suning

Once a target for Premier League champions Liverpool, Alex Teixeira chose the Chinese Super League over the English top-flight.

Teixeira signed for Jiangsu Suning instead of the Reds for £45m in 2016, spending his peak years in the Far East.

During his four seasons at the club, the attacking midfielder has contributed 67 goals in 143 games, adding 41 assists in all competitions.

Alex Teixeira snubbed interest from Premier League champions Liverpool for Jiangsu Suning

Marouane Fellaini 

Years in China: 2019-Present

Team: Shandong Luneng

Belgium midfielder Marouane Fellaini left Manchester United to move to China to play for Shandong Luneng in 2019.

The 32-year-old got off to a flying start in the CSL following his £10m from Old Trafford by scoring on his debut. 

Fellaini’s goal saw his new team Shandong Luneng beat Beijing Renhe in their season opener last year.  

His fine form continued as he provided 13 goals in his first season in all competitions – seeing his side finish fifth in the league.  

Marouane Fellaini scored on his debut for Shandong Luneng and has impressed ever since

Odion Ighalo 

Years in China: 2017-Present (on loan at Manchester United)

Team: Shanghai Shenhua

Odion Ighalo left Watford for Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 after the Chinese side offered him £190,000-a-week to join.

The forward scored 10 goals in 17 games in the Super League last year, playing alongside former AC Milan star Stephan El Shaarawy.

After finding his feet in China, a host of club’s in the Premier League were drawn to the Nigerian striker.

Subsequently, Ighalo joined Manchester United on loan last season and has since extended his deal until January 2021. 

United manager Solskjaer said: ‘It’s been a dream for him and hopefully he can finish what he started and win a trophy with us.’ 

Odion Ighalo left Watford for Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 and now earns £190,000-a-week

Carlos Tevez

Years in China: 2016-18

Team: Shanghai Shenhua

At the age of 32, Tevez was one of those players that planned to see out his career while earning the big bucks in China. Now 36 and back at Boca Juniors, things didn’t quite go to plan. 

Following a very successful playing career, Tevez joined Shanghai Shenhua in December 2016 before returning to boyhood club Boca Juniors in 2018. 

The Argentina striker has since described his spell in the Chinese Super League as a ‘holiday’.  

He told TyC Sports: ‘When I landed in China, I realised that I wanted to go back to Boca, I was on vacation for seven months.’

On arrival at Shanghai, head coach Wu Jingui claimed that Tevez was ‘overweight’ and said that he could not play until he was fit. After eventually making the starting lineup, Tevez only scored four goals – costing the club a total of £10m per goal. 

Carlos Tevez called his time with Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League ‘a vacation’


Years in China: 2016-2019

Team: Jiansu Suning

Former Chelsea midfielder Ramires failed to hit the heights expected of him after joining Chinese Super League side Jiansu Suning for £20m in January 2016.

Not only was Ramires lacking inspiration on the pitch, it is believed he was doing everything in his power to broker a deal with Benfica after hearing of their interest in a reunion with him.

Such advances saw Ramires dropped to train with Suning’s reserve team and he failed to feature again for the first-team before being released in May 2019.

Former Chelsea midfielder Ramires failed to impress after joining Jiansu Suning for £20m

Jackson Martinez

Years in China: 2016-Present

Team: Guangzhou Evergrande

Jackson Martinez signed for Guangzhou Evergrande in a league record deal worth £38m at the time but failed to impress.

Martinez only scored four goals in 2016 and made no appearances in the next two seasons before being loaned out to Portuguese side Portimonense. 

Jackson Martinez signed for Guangzhou Evergrande in a then league record deal worth £38m

Anthony Modeste

Years in China: 2017-18

Team: Tianjin Quanjian

Anthony Modeste disappointed Tianjin Quanjian while at the club and it proved to be an ugly divorce after one season.

Modeste signed for Tianjin in 2017, penning a deal lasting until 2020. However, in the summer of 2018 he tried to get his contract terminated due to an ‘unpaid salary’.

Having fallen out with the Chinese club, Modeste rejoined his former club Cologne but failed to feature for them as Tianjin threatened to take legal action against him and his new club after the German side announced they had re-signed the striker while he was still under contract in China. 

Anthony Modeste disappointed Tianjin Quanjian while at the club and it caused a legal dispute

Ezequiel Lavezzi

Years in China: 2016-19

Team: Hebei China Fortune

Ezequiel Lavezzi joined Hebei China Fortune in a big money move from Paris Saint-Germain in 2016. The Argentine forward penned a deal which would see him earn £400,000-a-week in the Chinese Super League.

Despite the fanfare, Lavezzi failed to live up to expectations when he first arrived as he went 12 months without a goal – costing the club £20.8m without doing what they signed him for.

Lavezzi also found himself in hot water after he was pictured pulling a face to mimic Chinese characteristics during a promotional campaign for the Super League. 

Ezequiel Lavezzi joined Hebei China Fortune in a lucrative move, earning him £400k-a-week

Both the club and player were forced to apologise. Lavezzi said: ‘We were given instructions by the official photographer and I was trying to make some interesting photos by making some funny faces, which would be used afterwards for entertainment purposes.

‘I had no intention of insulting the Chinese people and did not do it with any bad intentions.

‘I’m very happy to be here as part of the Hebei club. I have had great time here with my team-mates and it has been a great journey. Every Chinese person around me is friendly and I love my life here. I deeply apologise if this photo has offended the Chinese public and fans. I will be more careful in the future.’

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