Photographer: Feng Li/Getty Images

Soccer Spending Spree Puts China in Class With Italy, Spain

  • Market for cross-border trades grew 14 percent to $4.8 billion
  • England’s Premier League teams remain most spendthrift

Fueled by newly acquisitive Chinese soccer teams, the global player transfer market grew to record $4.8 billion in 2016, according to an annual report from FIFA.

Chinese Super League teams spent $451.3 million to import players last year, up from $168 million in 2015. It also makes China the fifth biggest spender in the global transfer market, passing France and within striking distance of teams in Spain’s La Liga ($508.7 million) and in Italy’s Serie A ($508.5 million).

Spending by English teams, flush from domestic and international media deals, still dwarfs the rest of the world. Those clubs shelled out $1.37 billion on international transfers, according to FIFA, and another $440 million on domestic transfers, which are tracked separately by Deloitte.

The emergence of Chinese teams as bidders for top talent cast ripples in the player market overall, but it’s unclear whether the buying spree will continue. The government stepped in earlier this month with a warning to cool "irresponsible spending." Shortly after, a new law was passed to cut the number of foreign players allowed per squad. That could reduce overall spending, or it could have the perverse effect of pushing up prices for the newly limited number of imports.

Before the government stepped in, the early weeks of 2017 suggested that Chinese teams would continue to pay through the nose. One Shanghai club recruited Carlos Tevez, a 32-year-old near end of his career, reportedly making him the world’s best paid player. And Oscar, a reserve at Chelsea, left for China after Shanghai SPIG paid a fee of as much as $75 million to secure the midfielder’s services.

FIFA’s data also provided a snap shot of the scale of athletes crossing borders to play soccer every year, saying the number of international transfers reached 14,591, including 900 transactions among new trading pairs.

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