As exclusively revealed to the English-language Internet by WEF, Guanghzhou Evergrande have completed the signing of 2010 Brazilian league player of the year Darío Conca for a record-breaking $10 million.
Not only is the transfer fee paid to Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro a Chinese record, but Sina Sports quoted a figure inside the big-spending Cantonese club as saying the Argentinean play maker will be paid an absolutely astounding salary of $1.3 million a month in a three-year deal.
This works out at around $15 million a year, putting the 28-year-old Conca above Lionel Messi in the world footballing salary charts. According to 1000goals.com, Messi’s wage is around $14.5 million – only his Barcelona team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, on $16.5 million, and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo on $18 million earn more. Further evidence that Conca will be earning a telephone-directory like salary comes from an ESPN report quoting Fluminense coach Abel Braga as saying “This offer will put him in the top ten highest-paid players in the world.”
News of the Argentinian’s arrival was greeted enthusiastically by his new team-mates. Compatriot Cleo said he knew Conca from his time playing in the Brazlian League and described him as a “truly remarkable player” and said he would undoubtedly add to Guangzhou’s already considerable talent pool.
Guangzhou captain Zheng Zhi, and striker Gao Lin, the team’s highest-profile domestic players, said the signing demonstrated the courage of Evergrande chairman Xu Jiayin, who was ranked the 25th wealthiest man in China’s by the Hurun report last year.
Zheng Zhi was quoted by Sina Sports are saying, “Conca joining is an absolutely great thing for Guangzhou, to have a player of this level will greatly increase the team’s strength and help the development of all squad members.”
He added, “With this big signing, our chairman is not only serving our team, he is more importantly serving Chinese football’s development – that the Chinese Super League can attract a top-level player like this is undoubtedly a piece of good fortune for Chinese football.”
The only downside as far as Guangzhou is concerned is that one of their existing foreign stars will have to leave to accommodate Conca. The Chinese Super League allows only five foreign players in total in the squad, and four foreign players on the pitch for any one team at anytime, one of whom must be from an Asian country. This means either South Korean Cho Won-Hee, or one of the Brazilians Muriqui, Renato Cajá, Paulão or Cleo, may have to go. Seeing as Cleo was the the previous Chinese record signing at $4.5 million from Partizan Belgrade earlier this year, is and currently Guangzhou’s top scorer, he’s the one least likely to have to make way.
So what does this mean for the Chinese Super League? Well there are pros and cons. A world class player (see video) of Conca’s standing is without doubt a huge coup for Guangzhou, and more importantly, for Chinese domestic football. It gives the league badly needed credibility and with a genuinely top-level player joining in his prime, his arrival will make it easier for the Chinese Super League to attract a better calibre of foreign player.
Furthermore, Guangzhou have always been one of China’s better-supported clubs, but the club’s gates have shot up and been topping 50,000 since the club splashed the cash in the close season, with a series of huge signings after being taken over last year by Evergrande Real Estate group. And whilst Conca is perhaps not a household name in Europe, his credentials speak for themselves and his arrival may well boost attendances for all Chinese Super League clubs when Guangzhou come to town, in much the same way David Beckham has done for the MLS.
There is also the matter of the Asian Champions League – Guangzhou look certs to qualify for it next year by finishing in the top three of the Chinese Super League. The Cantonese giants have assembled a team with the talent to win it, if they do, they will raise the profile and credibility of the Chinese Super League further.
The downside is that in the short term the Chinese Super League risks becoming uncompetitive. This is especially unfortunate as its competitiveness is one of its key strengths – five teams have won the Chinese title since the league was re-branded seven years ago. But with yet another high-power signing, Guangzhou, who are already seven points clear at the top of the table with half the season gone, become rock-solid favorites to win the title. Although the team from the south coast have been fortunate to remain undefeated so far, this new signing makes it more likely that their losses column will feature a big fat zero under it in the final Chinese Super League 2011 table.
There are also the same criticisms that can be made of Guangzhou that are made of teams funded by a rich benefactor anywhere, such as Manchester City or Chelsea. Namely, that such spending is unsustainable and would be better invested in youth development. This argument is especially powerful in China, given the dearth of quality players being produced for the national team. Moreover, Man City and Chelsea exist in one of the most profitable leagues in the world – in stark contrast to the Chinese Super League, in which most clubs owe their existence to the apparent regular bailouts from local governments and businessmen trying to use football to benefit their own ends. So it’s all the more crucial such money is spent wisely in China.
In the short-term however, given the massive PR problem faced by the Chinese Super League, and the lack of local interest, the arrival of a player of genuine quality is a good thing in your correspondent’s opinion. As to whether Conca’s time in China will mark the start of a new era for the Chinese Super League and Chinese football in general, that very much remains to be seen.
Author: Cameron Wilson
UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade…