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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.

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