Following changes first mooted earlier this year, the Chinese FA has today issued a specific proposal to a cut the number of foreign players Chinese Super League clubs can name in their match day squads from 4+1 to 3+1, from the start of next season.
In recent years, clubs could name five players in their match day squad, with a maximum of three allowed in the starting 11. A fourth player (the so-called +1) could also start the match if their nationality was that of another Asian Football Confederation (AFC) country. A fifth foreigner could be named on the bench but could only enter the field of play if he replaced another foreigner and the 3+1 rule of three foreign players plus an AFC player on the pitch at any one time, was not broken.
The policy adjustment would restrict CSL clubs to naming 3+1 foreign players in their match day squad. Teams would still be able to register up to five foreign players in their playing squad for the season, but the new rules would mean that the fifth foreigner would have to sit out the match entirely and not take a place on the subs bench, unlike previous seasons.
Although at present the proposal is only a consultative document presented to clubs for their feedback, WEF understands that the change is very likely to go ahead, and furthermore, 2017 will probably be a transitional year to a permanent 3+1 rule change in 2018 where Chinese clubs will only be allowed to register four foreigners in their playing squads.
A picture of a circular sent to each team shows a box each club secretary can tick indicating either agreement or disagreement with the proposal, but the CFA is by no means bound to accept any majority view.
“Can you guess which club will make which choice?” joked a prominent Shanghai-based football journalist.
“The CFA are really funny making this look like a consultation, the decision was already made long ago,” remarked another online commentator, whilst “About time, where are China’s home-grown strikers?” said another.
Concern has been growing in the game in China that the opportunities of domestic players have been limited by the impact of foreign imports. Whilst there was once a time when the quality of overseas player in China was not always much better than domestic talent, that era had largely passed even before the recent influx of star players on huge money from abroad.
But the wave of big foreign names arriving for astronomical transfer fees and salaries has underlined concerns for the longer term development of native talent, particularly for Chinese strikers and attacking players who are hardest hit since CSL clubs typically invest in big names who can make and score goals. For similar reasons, CSL clubs are forbidden from signing foreign goalkeepers to maximize the chances of native custodians.
Ultimately the main visible change next season would be that one more Chinese player will be on the bench instead of a foreigner. There has been disquiet in some quarters in China at the size of transfer fees being burned to bring big name foreigners to China, the rule change could go two ways.
The effect of the change could cause some clubs to spend less on a fifth foreigner as they would spend a lot of time playing in the reserves, or alternatively, some clubs may end up having to spend even more to convince certain players to sign if rule changes meant there was less guarantee of getting a game – a possible situation which also suggests the rule change will be a transitional one to a permanent cut to 3+1.