Economic crisis be damned, Chinese spend, spend, spend on soccer

World markets have roiled in response to data that suggests the Chinese economy is slowing down, but you'd never get the impression anything is wrong in China, given the spending of Chinese companies on soccer. Indeed, the money being thrown around shows just how much extra cash these Chinese companies still have. reported that Chinese Super League clubs have spent more on players in January than clubs from any other league in the world. Deals for Brazilian Ramires to Jiangsu Suning from Chelsea for almost $36 million and for Ivorian Gervinho to Hebei China Fortune from Roma for almost $20 million have brought spending on the transfer market to $148 million -- $32 million more than Premier League clubs have spent.

And as crazy as this sounds, clubs in China's second division, League One, have spent more than clubs in the German Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga or France's Ligue 1. (It should noted that this is China's primary transfer window -- the new season starts in March -- while European clubs remain cautious about midseason spending during the secondary window.)

The Chinese league has recovered from match-fixing scandals to enjoy a new surge in popularity. The Super League's 16 teams averaged 22,183 fans -- more than MLS -- and Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao again won the Asian Champions League title.

Clubs are allowed to sign five foreigners and have four in the field at the same time, though one player must be from an Asian country. Seven of the top 10 scorers were foreigners in 2015, though the Chinese are reluctant to single out praise for foreigners. Only two foreigners -- South Korean Kim Young-Gwon and Argentine Dario Conca -- made the Super League Best XI.

That doesn't mean China is rolling in talent. China is third in its World Cup 2018 qualifying round and in danger of not surviving past March. The eight group winners and four best second-place teams advance to the third stage.

Things are so bad -- China's only World Cup appearance came in 2002 -- that Chinese media have speculated that it might be time for China to begin naturalizing players. After all, Qatar, which is unbeaten and untied and the leader in China's group, is loaded with Frenchmen, as well as players from Ghana and Spain. Hong Kong, which tied China twice, has players from Brazil, Britain and Ghana.

What makes the situation so crazy is that everyone forgets one thing: It's almost impossible to become a naturalized citizen in China. As the Communist Party-controlled Global Times noted, “You’ll have to go through bureaucratic hell.”

In the meantime, Chinese investors show no sign of their appetite for buying up all things soccer being satiated.

Chinese light company Ledman will become the sponsor of Portugal's ProLiga next season and managed to exact some serious conditions on the second-tier league. Ten Chinese players will join the league's top 10 teams, and three Chinese coaches will follow to work with them.

Ledman's proposal to require the Chinese players receive a minimum of playing time was scrapped in the face of opposition from the Portuguese players union. But it will go ahead with its plan to offer clubs bonuses if they use their Chinese imports.

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