It’s time to wake up and smell the Chinese tea. Barely a week goes by without one of Europe’s top footballers being linked with a move to the Far East, but how much do we really know about the Chinese Super League?
At Ladbrokes News we thought it was high-time to lay out the groundwork and tell you everything you need to know about the fastest up-and-coming league – and nation – in football.
So, lets crack on.
When did it all begin?
The Chinese Super League was founded in 2004, and this year will be its 14th campaign.
After five different sides won the title in the first six seasons, Guangzhou Evergrande have dominated since, winning the last six titles.
Talk us through some numbers
Some 16 sides compete, with two relegation spots dropping clubs into China League One.
Just 12 teams took part in the first season in 2004, with a total attendance of 1.4m. By comparison, last season drew in over 5.4m spectators.
Want more numbers? Sure. Nine of the 16 outfits play in stadiums with more than a 50,000 capacity – and yes, that is more than in the Premier League.
When does it start?
The new season begins on the first weekend in March, and will run through until October.
Any rule changes?
Yep. Despite everything you hear and read about big-money signings, Chinese Super League clubs may have to curb their expenditures soon.
A significant ruling coming in this season is a limit on foreign players. Previously clubs could field four foreign players at any one time, but this will be reduced to three.
Each club can still have five foreign players on their books but only three can now be on the pitch simultaneously.
Another move starting this year – and in a clear effort to enhance the national chances – is each club must field one Chinese U23 in the starting XI, and list two in every matchday squad.
Don’t expect Joe Hart to make a move East however, the CSL’s regulations mean each club must field a home-grown goalkeeper.
How many names and faces will I recognise?
More than you’d think. It’s not just players who have been wooed to Asia.
This season’s competition will feature five managers with Premier League experience.
Luis Felipe Scolari is at all-conquering Evergrande, while Andre Villas-Boas succeeded Sven-Goran Eriksson at Shanghai SIPG in the off-season.
Another former Chelsea and Tottenham man has made his way to Shanghai, with Gus Poyet taking charge of Shanghai Shenhua in November.
Former Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini has ended up at Hebei China Fortune, while ex-Fulham coach Felix Magath is plying his mercurial trade at Shandong Luneng.
And former Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro will be strolling the touchlines too, having guided Tianjin Quanjian into the top-tier.
Which mega-bucks players are where?
Ghuangzhou Evergrande – Paulinho & Jackson Martinez
Changchun Yatai – Odion Ighalo
Hebei China Fortune – Ezequiel Lavezzi & Gervinho
Jiangsu Suning – Ramires & Alex Teixeira
Shandong Luneng – Graziano Pelle & Papiss Cisse
Shanghai Shenua – Carlos Tevez, Fredy Guarin & Obafemi Martins
Shanghai SIPG – Hulk, Oscar & Ricardo Carvalho
Tianjin Quanjian – Axel Witsel & Alex Pato
Tianjin Teda – Jon Obi Mikel
One final thing – the Chinese transfer deadline isn’t until the end of the month, so if you thought the star player at your club was safe – think again.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing