While it may not yet be able to compete with Europe’s elite in most aspects, the Chinese Super League has still become an attractive destination for players across the world seeking a fresh challenge – and a hefty pay packet.
President Xi Jinping’s 10-year plan to make the country a footballing superpower has resulted in CSL teams being bankrolled by massive corporate investment to make the great sporting leap forward.
This January alone, the likes of Brazilian international Oscar, Argentina’s Carlos Tevez and Belgian star Axel Witsel, have moved to Chinese clubs Shanghai SIPG, Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Quanjian in deals worth insane amounts of money in transfer fees and wages.
Former Chelsea player Oscar earned his £52m move to Shanghai SIPG after impressing in the Premier League, as did other recent additions to the CSL such as John Obi Mikel, Graziano Pelle and Demba Ba.
But to turn the tables – here are five CSL players who Premier League clubs might want to consider bringing over to England in the current transfer window.
Jackson Martinez: target for West Ham?
Last summer, West Ham’s pursuit of a striker in the “£30m” and upwards bracket was well-documented after they failed in their attempts to recruit Michy Batshuayi – who later signed for London rivals Chelsea – and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.
The Hammers eventually managed to land Simone Zaza from Juventus in a loan deal that would become permanent after the Italian had made a certain amount of appearances, but the 25-year-old utterly failed to adapt to life in the Premier League, and is now set to return to Juventus before he is offloaded to another club.
Their next target was former Hammer Jermain Defoe, but given his huge importance in their bid to avoid relegation, Sunderland have rejected the east London club’s £6m offer and made it clear they have no intention of selling.
Manager Slaven Bilic is now likely to look elsewhere, and having so far this season paid the price for his failure to recruit a decent striker last summer, Guangzhou Evergrande’s Jackson Martinez would be well worth a look.
Martinez moved to China last January after a short and unsuccessful stint at Atletico Madrid, where he only managed to score two goals in 15 La Liga appearances. However, the 30-year-old Colombian’s prolific goalscoring record for Porto, which saw him finish as the Primeira Liga’s top-scorer in all three of his seasons in Portugal, proves how good he can be.
He can also boast Champions League experience and 10 goals in 40 appearances for his country, including appearances at both the Copa America and World Cup.
Whether Guangzhou would be willing to let him go remains to be seen, but he is the type of player many West Ham supporters would have hoped to see come in last summer to build on a successful final season at Upton Park before the move to the London Stadium.
Ezequiel Lavezzi: target for Everton?
Everton appear to be in the market for a new winger, and Hebei China Fortune’s Ezequiel Lavezzi would be a superb option.
At 31, the Argentina international probably has a couple of good seasons left in him and remains a big name.
With Yannick Bolasie sidelined for a year and Gerard Deulofeu set to leave the Merseyside club on loan, manager Ronald Koeman is looking to add to that area of the squad, having already snapped up 19-year-old Ademola Lookman from Charlton for £11m.
“I know what we need to change and if everyone opens their eyes today maybe we will get further on our improvement as a team. Because that’s really what we need and that’s all about what happens this month,” Koeman told the Liverpool Echo regarding the club’s lack of transfer activity.
Manchester United’s Memphis Depay is rumoured to be Koeman’s top target; however, it is believed that the Red Devils will only consider letting the 22-year-old leave on a permanent deal, while Everton are reportedly insisting on a loan – so if Koeman cannot get his number one choice, Lavezzi could serve as an excellent alternative.
Like Depay, former PSG and Napoli star Lavezzi’s preference is to operate on the left-hand side where he can cut in and cause damage with his right foot. But he is just as capable of playing on the left or behind the striker, making him both a skilful and versatile asset.
A proven top-level success in Europe, he could be just the spark a club like Everton need to give propel themselves upwards.
Graziano Pelle: target for Watford?
Graziano Pelle and Watford could potentially be a match made in heaven.
With strikers Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo having failed to reproduce last term’s form this season, the Hornets are in serious need of reinforcements up front, ailing to reproduce the goalscoring from they showed during the 2015/16 campaign, the Hornets could really do with some fresh impetus up front.
Given his aerial threat and impressive hold-up play, the former Southampton striker could fit the bill ideally.
Watford boss Walter Mazzarri likes to deploy Watford in a 3-5-2 formation, a set-up Pelle excelled in for Italy at Euro 2016, playing under current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
The Shandong Luneng forward netted twice against Belgium and Spain to add to the 14 goals he scored in all competitions for Southampton that season before his move to China. At 31, Pelle could still have a couple of years of top-flight football in him.
Paulinho: target for West Brom?
West Brom manager Tony Pulis is looking for a central midfielder and has already had a £13m bid for Morgan Schneiderlin rejected by Manchester United.
Earlier this month, Pulis told the Birmingham Mail: “Morgan is just one of two or three we’re looking at.
“The most important thing is that you do your business with other clubs. It’s respectful to other clubs and then you move on from there. If we get the deals done, you get them done.”
The Red Devils want to recoup the £24m they paid Southampton for Schneiderlin in 2015, whilst the player’s preference to be reunited with his former Saints boss Ronald Koeman at Everton suggests he is out of the Baggies’ reach.
In that case, a decent alternative option might be Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulinho.
The 28-year-old Brazilian international did not have the best of times during his previous stint in England with Tottenham, but has all the right attributes to fit into a Pulis team.
His strength, energy, defensive capabilities and physical presence in set-piece situations, makes him an ideal alternative to Schneiderlin and, ultimately, a good midfield option for West Brom to have.
Currently eighth in the table, he could be just the man to push them on for a Europa League spot.
Papiss Cisse: target for Hull City?
Barring miracles, Hull look destined for the drop this season.
New boss Marcos Silva has spoken of the need to strengthen his squad if he is to save them, and one area he will have to address is their attacking options.
“I have confidence in our players, but it’s clear we need to improve our roster,” Silva said in his unveiling as Hull manager and as quoted on BBC Sport.
Joint lowest scorers in the Premier League so far this season, with just 17 goals in 20 games, Hull need a proven Premier League forward, and Senegal international Papiss Cisse is just that.
The 31-year-old made an instant impact in English football’s top flight when he joined Newcastle from Bundesliga outfit Freiburg in January 2012, scoring 13 goals in 14 league appearances that season – including an incredible strike against Chelsea – but struggled to follow up that dazzling debut.
Since last summer, Cisse has been playing for Shandong Luneng. Anything would be an improvement on Hull’s current striking options, so the main issue could be if the player wants to join a relegation fight.