Hulk joins SIPG – An incredible boost for the CSL or an incredible waste of money?

Brazil international Hulk is set to join Shanghai SIPG in the coming days in a deal valued at €55 million from Zenit St. Petersburg.

The versatile forward, 29, scored 56 goals in 97 Russian Premier League games for his former side following a similarly successful spell with FC Porto and has also represented his country on 48 occasions since his 2009 debut.

However, at €55 million (before considering a reported €20 million-per-year salary), he will become the new most expensive player in Asian football history—a record already broken this year on three occasions by Ramires, Jackson Martinez and Alex Teixeira. It is doubtful this record will last for long.

There is no doubt the CSL has garnered increased attention as a result of the recent high-profile purchases, but not all of the coverage has been positive. Indeed, the league has become a byword for overspending of fees and salary across many parts of the football media. Unfair criticism of a developing league? Not really when they continue to overpay by such amounts.

When Teixeira joined Suning, for example, it was pointed out that for €10 million more the company could have bought a 50% stake in Shakhtar and moved Teixeira anyway—while also obtaining control of the club’s other assets. Regardless of headlines, they also did not ‘beat’ Liverpool to his signature. Liverpool simply regarded the quoted €50 million fee as ridiculous—quite rightly so.

Hulk in many ways is a similar case. He has done well in Russia and Portugal, but his reputation remains mixed at the very highest level.

In Brazil, despite approaching a half-century of international appearances, there are many who insist he is not worthy of a role in the national team. He has never managed to turn that tide of opinion in his favour with his only international goals of note coming against Argentina and Chile.

For the CSL, though, it is easy to see the attraction. He is versatile, scores goals and possesses strong individual ability, pace and strength. He will find the back of the net in China and, initially at least, his presence will certainly intimidate. Will he turn SIPG into league winners over the next 18 months? That would seem less likely.

One only needs look at SIPG’s last crazy money capture, Asamoah Gyan, to see how the CSL bears little respect for reputation.

Injuries have affected the Ghanaian (as they did at Al Ain, which raises major questions about the purchase), but he has still managed 20 games over the past year. Has he made an impact in that time? Not particularly.

Seven goals is a reasonable return for most players, but when you are on in excess of $250,000 each week it is not good enough and it appears SIPG are more than willing to move him on at the first opportunity.

Should he leave, Gyan will doubtless be regarded as one of the biggest wastes of money in Super League history. Luckily for him, Jackson Martinez is on track to spare his blushes.

Indeed, the CSL’s history of marquee signings is poor at best. Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba’s time at Shanghai Shenhua was mired by off-the-pitch issues; Lucas Barrios, Alberto Gilardino and Alessandro Diamanti all failed to register a splash at Guangzhou Evergrande; Yakubu was decent in spells for Guangzhou R&F while Renato Augusto and Burak Yilmaz have barely got going at Beijing Guoan this campaign.

When it comes to performing in China, there is far more to being successful than just turning up and hoping. Indeed, it is often outside of the player’s control.

Hulk, like Gyan, Gervinho or Demba Ba, will score goals due to his physical attributes and individual ability. But he will need more than just to find the net every other game to be regarded as a success. He must bring trophies to Shanghai and he must grab headlines on a consistent basis.

In general, Chinese football cares simply for results. Those being signed are not those who will pull up the level of Chinese players or who can organise a side. They are soloists, with the Chinese players simply expected to provide the backing harmonies as the hunt for a hit record continues. Until that changes, expectations on foreign players will remain sky high—as will the transfer fees.

Talk of reducing the foreign player quota to 3+1 next season was recently heralded as good for the game in China. That must be the hope, but the danger is it will simply lead to ever more expensive local players and higher salaries for the fewer overseas talents.

Hulk’s arrival is undoubtedly a further sign of the CSL’s improving financial pulling power, but it is irrelevant if the fundamentals do not change.

We all know it will take time to bring through better Chinese players, improve facilities and coaching, but that must continue to be the main aim. It is what the country wants, but it doesn’t bring the immediate results that an owner throwing tens of millions of dollars at a club demands.

Until that point, signing the likes of Hulk will remain the footballing equivalent of parking a Lamborghini outside a house infested with dry-rot. It looks good on the surface, but you open yourself up to closer attention and the danger of ridicule.

The CSL is treading a fine-line between the need to boost its profile and appearing to be veering off course into the realms of Football Manager-inspired splurges that demonstrate little more than a willingness to burn (or clean) money.

For the sake of SIPG’s fans and a club which was founded upon principles of youth developement, it must be hoped Hulk’s arrival is more than just a short-term massaging of another owner’s ego.

It could undoubtedly be a brilliant capture, but having been around Chinese football for a while, the safe money is being placed on very little changing for SIPG or the CSL as a whole.

Sorry Hulk. Please feel free to prove me wrong.

Author: Randolph Marsh

Comments
6 Responses to “Hulk joins SIPG – An incredible boost for the CSL or an incredible waste of money?”
  1. Flyingkiwi says:

    Hulk will, probably, do alright in Shanghai. He’ll score goals and get a few more bums on seats (And there are plenty of spare bum space at Shanghai stadium). But he’ll not make any real difference to the state of Chinese football. But then; that’s not what he’s there for. He’s there to give the impression that all is well in China.

    “Until that point, signing the likes of Hulk will remain the footballing equivalent of parking a Lamborghini outside a house infested with dry-rot. It looks good on the surface, but you open yourself up to closer attention and the danger of ridicule”.

    This has always been the Chinese way; but more than this, it’s a pretty good indicator of trouble on the horizon. Furthermore: the “house infested with dry-rot”, in this case ‘il casa CFA’ will get a new coat of paint so it, superficially, looks OK.

    “When Teixeira joined Suning, for example, it was pointed out that for €10 million more the company could have bought a 50% stake in Shakhtar and moved Teixeira anyway”.

    They, probably, wouldn’t have been able to do this as everybody knows that Chinese football clubs are intrinsically linked with the Chinese state and the Ukrainian government probably wouldn’t have allowed it.

  2. TimeAddedOn4Sausages says:

    I don’t think Hulk is worth this kind of money for what he’ll do on the pitch, though I agree he’ll do alright. I do think the signing is worth it as a kind of statement, for both SIPG and Chinese football in general. It reminds me a bit of Man City signing Robinho – his accomplishments didn’t amount to much but it showed the world Man City meant business and they had the green to it. I’m sure a lot of players are taking notice of the money on offer in China, and with each signing of this sort the stigma of being labelled a sell-out gets less.

  3. Flyingkiwi says:

    I note that Asamoah Gyan wants out of SIPG but has, apparently, just failed a medical on the transfer deal. It’s interesting to see just how short the Chinese sojourns are for the “stars” that get brought into the CSL. Drogba didn’t hang around, Anelka was here a bit longer and, by the looks of things (I’ve been away) Hulk hasn’t played much either. I wonder why that might be. I have a suspicion that it has to do with money.

  4. Cameron Wilson says:

    The simple fact is Hulk has been injured since the 22nd minute of his debut… SIPG are not short of cash!

    • Flyingkiwi says:

      Well… Indeed. I saw him score twice against Guoan last night.

      But I remain far from convinced about the financial strength of the CSL. Certainly, some clubs flash the cash when bringing in “stars”. But there is basic concept underlying the Chinese political and business model (And, if truth be told, the models of many other countries, as well) that public/international perception is far more important than reality. That is; if people think you’re rich, they’re going to treat you differently than if they think you’re struggling.

      Over the last few year; a number of very high profile players have come to China. Their arrival has been trumpeted by Chinese football and the Chinese media who have released certain, head-turning, details. But Drogba and Anelka walked away from, supposedly, highly lucrative Shenhua contracts under a cloud and non-disclosure agreements. Gyan was looking at moving to Reading; a team famous amongst its own supporters (Of which I am one) for NOT paying its players big money. Certainly; every CSL team has, what is in effect, government financial backing and their own overseas players. But the vast majority of these overseas players have nowhere near the star status of a Drogba/Anelka/Gyan/Hulk and there contracts would be much lower (Most of them are people even those of us who follow world football fairly closely, and have done for years, have never heard of before)

      The coup for the CSL (And, just as importantly, China internationally) is in bringing stars to the country. Actually keeping them here, by paying them the wages that they have been contractually promised, seems far less important.

  5. Cameron Wilson says:

    Kiwi, you are right that clubs are spending huge money for reasons way beyond football itself. But the Drogba and Anelka situation is different. It was four years ago, which is a long time in Chinese football. They left because they were not paid. Shenhua, and the rest of Chinese football, has moved on since then. Whilst there are a few players complain they aren’t paid what they should have been, these tend to be smaller fish. Gyan isn’t leaving because SIPG can’t or won’t afford to pay his wages, far from it, they have the money and spent it on what they think is a better option in Hulk.

    All the attention the CSL gets now just increases the pressure on the clubs to be seen to be doing things right, and makes it harder to get away with not paying people. Like you say though, who knows how long this huge investment will come into the game. It certainly is not sustainable in the long term.

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