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Chinese FA mulls rule change to cut number of foreign players in CSL

In a policy adjustment which could have significant ramifications for the CSL, the Chinese FA is considering reducing the number of foreigner player clubs can register, in time for the 2018 season.

The news emerged at CFA meeting in Guizhou province yesterday. According to a Tencent Sports report, no final decision on the policy has been made but the tentative plan is for next season to be a transitional year to allow clubs to adjust their squads before changing the 4+1 foreign player quota to 3+1.

Currently, Chinese Super League clubs can register four foreign players in their squad, plus on foreigner from another AFC member country  – hence the “4+1” rule’s name. During matches, CSL teams can field three foreigners at any time, plus a fourth player from an Asian Confederation country. The fifth foreigner in the squad can sit on the bench but can only replace another foreign player.

Tencent reported, “A CFA official did not give an exact time scale for changing the CSL foreign player quota rule and said the idea was still being discussed,” adding, “The final details of the plan are yet to be fixed.”

The report went on to say that the Asian Champions League (ACL) has long operated a 3+1 rule for foreign players and that the CFA appear to think now is the time to bring the CSL player eligibility rules in line with those of the ACL.

“Another aspect of the rule change would be that it would give CSL teams who are competing in the ACL one less thing to worry about as they would not have to think about which foreigner to drop for their ACL squad.”

Such a reasoning would be quite a departure from previous CFA edicts about CSL foreign player quotas for CSL teams. In a move which caused much consternation back in 2012, Guangzhou Evergrande were allowed to register seven foreign players in their squad to aid their ACL campaign.

In recent years, there have been murmurings among certain CSL clubs about increasing the 4+1 quota. However, the climate in Chinese football has changed somewhat in the last 12 months, with the government making the development of Chinese football a national priority, giving Chinese players more pitch time to aid their development may now be seen as a more pressing issue than before.

Currently, most of the big money foreign imports are offensive players, severely restricting the chances of China’s native forwards getting a regular game in their own league.  Any reduction in the number of foreigners teams could field would go some way towards changing that.

The CSL foreign player quota has fluctuated over the years but the current 4+1 rule has been in place since 2009. Clubs have been forbidden from signing foreign goalkeepers since 2001.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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