When my three-year-old is bad sometimes I have to go to the radical step of taking away all his toys. That seems to be the thinking of the General Administration of Sports and the CFA with their new rules released over the weekend.
The rules, eliminating the 4+1 rule and only allowing three foreign players on the pitch per match & requiring two U23 players in a side’s 18 man matchday roster with one in the starting eleven, radically change the setup of the CSL less than two months before the season kicks off and are serious cause for concern.
The moves attempt to do good, but in the short term they will do a lot more harm as the timing of implementation couldn’t be worse. It also appears little, if any, consultation with the different clubs took place. While this will help curb some of the crazy foreign spending this year, it comes too late and forces clubs to scramble to deal with players already signed.
My biggest issue is with the U23 rules, because what is often overlooked is the domestic transfer bubble that saw Zhang Chengdong move for a record RMB150 million ($21.7 million). A proper rule would state the player had to be with a club’s academy from age 17 or 18 (or younger). This would push clubs to focus on and invest in building their academies and help add to spending at the lower levels of the game. Instead, it only creates a bubble in the cost of young Chinese players (who in most cases will lose much of their value on their 24th birthday), which will likely lead to them being incredibly overpriced and likely hoarded by the few clubs that have young talent.
The three foreigner rule equally is far too radical than the preferred 3+1 solution bandied about for the 2018 season. The current decision of only three period will hurt Chinese sides in the ACL this year and force those who qualify next year to find the right Asian player (and then only sign them for one season). The rules almost discourage longer term contracts for foreigners, thus impacting team stability.
While these rules help with the development of young players and capping some of the over-the-top spending on foreigners, the move feels too reactive and as if little thought was put into the consequences of it (one of them being the Chinese league being portrayed as an even bigger joke overseas). One can only imagine a clown (or CFA official) will jump out of a cake, yell surprise, and tell us this was all just a joke and they will go back to the drawing board (or implement it experimentally for the CFA Cup).
There is still time before the season kicks off, hopefully these rules will be reconsidered. This insanity isn’t the only way to prevent a handful of clubs from insane spending.