PICTURE: Caught Offside
WITH West Ham’s Jose Fonte having recently made the switch to China to play for Dalian Yafing, fans everywhere were reminded that Chinese football just refuses to give up on its quest to become “the biggest force in the sport”.
Carlos Tevez’s wallet-busting move from his beloved Boca Juniors to Shanghai Shenhua in 2017 caused a storm in the footballing world, but also paved the way for many other big names to (arguably) sell their souls for the money.
Villarreal’s Cedric Bakambu recently became the most expensive African player of all time when he moved to China for a reported £65m. The Congolese forward made the move to Beijing Guoan last week.
In the same week, talented Belgian winger Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco made the switch from Atletico Madrid to China. He joined Fonte at Dalian Yifang, despite being only 24 years old and still having a lot more to give in Europe in many people’s opinions.
Other than those three, you have former Premier League stars such as Gervinho, Papiss Cisse, Graziano Pelle, Nikica Jelavic and Odion Ighalo. Here, I’ve come up with a list of five other familiar names from years gone by that are now plying their trade over in Asia …
Obafemi Martins (Shanghai Shenhua)
It seems like Martins has been around for a lifetime, having turned out for the likes of Inter Milan, Newcastle United and of course, Birmingham City, where he scored the League Cup final winner against Arsenal in 2011.
Back in the day, he was known as a very pacey forward with a keen eye for goal and during his time in Serie A, he was regarded as one of the next big things in football (although injury put an end to that eventually).
The Nigerian forward, who is now 33-years-old, has been playing for Shanghai Shenhua since 2016, hitting 16 goals in 39 Chinese Super League appearances.
Javier Mascherano (Hebei China Fortune)
Argentinians and China just seem to mix at the moment. First Tevez, then Lavezzi and now Mascherano.
The 33-year-old centre back has had an illustrious footballing career. He first played in the Premier League with West Ham before moving to Liverpool, where he really established himself as a great player.
However, it was at Barcelona that he had the most success of course. In his eight years there, he racked up 203 league appearances and won four La Liga titles and two Champions League titles.
Mascherano, who has 141 caps for his country, signed for Hebei China Fortune in January.
Alexandre Pato (Tianjin Quanjian)
As a youngster, Pato was highly thought of around the world and was fully expected to become one of the greatest players within football.
He had it all – the brilliant drilling abilities, a great goal scoring record and had even received some kind words of praise from Pele.
The Brazilian’s time at Italian giants AC Milan saw him enjoy many a great moment, including scoring two goals in a 3-2 win at Real Madrid in the Champions League, but his prospects were cut short when injury began to plague his career.
Spells in his homeland, a brief and unsuccessful stint with Chelsea and a season at Spanish side Villarreal followed before the 28-year-old made his move to Tianjin Quanjian in 2017.
Pato has since netted 15 times in just 24 games and has found fine form once again (although I’m not sure that was his main reason for moving to China).
John Obi Mikel (Tianjin Teda)
Here’s a name that will be very familiar to true fans of the Premier League.
Nigerian midfield general Mikel spent 11 years at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea after initially rejecting Manchester United. Whilst he may not have played as many times as he’d have like to in that spell, he certainly enjoyed some success.
With 249 league appearances, two Premier League titles, two League cups, a Champions League medal and just the one league goal to his name – he was a beloved character in the blue part of London.
Now at 30 years old, Mikel – who won the title of “African Young Player of the Year” in both 2005 and 2006, is bossing the midfield with Tianjin Teda.
Oscar (Shanghai SIPG)
Last but not least, here’s another former Chelsea man who really sold his soul to Chinese football in my opinion.
Midfielder Oscar was a pivotal part of the Chelsea side that won the Premier League title in 2014-15 and in 2016-17 too (although he left halfway through that).
The talented Brazilian was known for popping up with fine goals and was also a great passer of the ball. So, it was a real shock to many when he decided to leave for Asia out of the blue.
Oscar turned his back on the Premier League as a 24-year-old who was in the prime of his career back in December 2016. Chinese side Shanghai SIPG broke records to sign the midfielder for £60m but many were unhappy as they felt that money in football had well and truly gone mad.