On reflection, the summer transfer window was fairly bonkers. United decided to part with 89 million in order to resign a former player. Chelsea sent a large French bank transfer to rescue David Luiz. Sissoko convinced not one, but two teams that he was worth 30 million. Juventus couldn’t handle the cash burning in their pocket so gave 80 million to rivals, Napoli, for a slightly overweight, Higuain. The Premier League clubs were slashing the cash. Benteke was signed by Palace for 32 millon. The new champions, Leicester, spent nearly as much on Slimani. In the midst of this madness, few eyes were focused on China. Donald Trump was right!
The Chinese Super League has billions in
communist cash. They’re clearly intent on making their mark on the world’s most popular game. Over the last 18 months, some of the transfer fees have entered ‘Andy Carroll’ territory:
- Hulk: 55 million
- Teixeira: 50 million
- Martinez: 42 million
- Ramires: 28 million
- Gervinho: 18 million
Players have been willing to sacrifice participating in Europe’s top leagues. The extortionate salaries on offer are a major factor. Pelle went from earning approximately 60k per week with the Saints to 260k per week. Southampton also received a 12m transfer fee, which was 4m more than what they paid Feyenoord in 2013. Pelle’s two and a half year contract will earn him close to 34m. For a player who turned 31 in July, that’s simply too much cash to turn down.
Southampton fans were understanding. They had Shane Long and Charlie Austin to fill the number 9 role, so Pelle wasn’t a guaranteed starter anyway. The club also made a significant profit on a player whose value was on the decline due to his age. The Italian striker had scored 23 goals in 68 games, and helped establish Southampton as a formidable Premier League side. So, how is the world’s fifth highest paid player getting on in China?
While all of the reports focused on the wage Pelle would be paid, not many mentioned that he was joining a struggling side. Shandong Luneng Taishan were in real danger of being relegated from the Super League. One month before Pelle joined the club, Felix Magath had taken over. Unlike his stint at Fulham, the controversial German coach managed to stop the run of bad results. However, the club would never hit top gear, even after the arrival of Pelle. Shandong Luneng Taishan finished the season in 14th place, just outside the relegation zone.
After arriving in July, Pelle went on to score 5 goals in 13 games. This included a strike on his debut, when Shandong Luneng Taishan secured a morale boosting 4-1 victory. The club has an all new strike partnership, as Papiss Cisse arrived two days before Pelle. Cisse was signed from Newcastle for around 2 million. His scoring stats are identical to his strike partner: 5 goals in 13 games. While both have adapted to life in China relatively well, Pelle hit the headlines with this stunning strike in August:
China is a football-mad nation. However, the enthusiasm for the game hasn’t resulted in success on the international stage. They recently lost a World Cup qualifier to Uzbekistan. This resulted in a change of manager with the experienced Marcelo Lippi taking over. The Super League has a limit on international players, with each squad allowed a maximum of 4 foreigners. Unlike the English Premier league, home grown talent will not be overlooked. Newly arrived players like Hulk, Ramires, Martinez and of course, Pelle, should help improve the overall quality of the game. This will then hopefully result in the the international side becoming stronger.
Shandong Luneng Taishan plays in a 56,000 seat stadium. The club is based in Jinan, which has a population of over 7 million. Pelle’s arrival was greeted with much fanfare. Expectations are high for next season. Their last domestic title was in 2010, while they also won the Chinese FA Cup in 2014. Guangzhou Evergrande finished 1st in the 2016 season. Massive investment has been a significant factor in their success. Felipe Scolari manages a side that includes Paulinho, Jackson Martinez and the captain of the Chinese national side, Zheng Zhi.
While Pelle will have been relieved that his club retained their top flight status, his international career has gone off the rails. The Italian coach,Gian Piero Ventura, has stated that he will not recall Pelle again. During an October qualifier against Spain, Pelle refused to shake Ventura’s hand after being substituted. Sent home in disgrace, the ex-Saints striker delivered a solemn apology:
“It was unacceptable behaviour, firstly against the coach and also, towards my teammates, who have always shown me to have important values in this fantastic Italy group we belong to. Like any great mistake, I accept the consequences. And it is only right that I take responsibility. I must ask offer my apologies from my heart to everyone”
With his international prospects looking bleak, Pelle can focus all of his energy on making his time in China a success. At 31, he’s financially secure for the rest of his life. While expectations are high in China, there isn’t the same pressure as there is in England. Furthermore, the quality is significantly weaker, giving the 6’4 talisman ample opportunity to find the net. While players like Ramires and Teixeira were criticised for leaving Europe in their prime, Pelle’s decision was generally accepted as being sensible. If he had stayed with the Saints, a tough Premier League campaign awaited with the chance of playing in the Europa League. Southampton are long shots to qualify for the Champions League. Over in China, he’ll have a chance to win honours next season and is earning four times his English salary. Southampton also won in the deal. They made a profit on an aging player who wasn’t guaranteed a starting spot. Why should clubs turn down outrageous offers from the Super League?
What do you think? Pelle’s situation seems like a win-win situation for both player and club. Was he right to make the move to the Chinese Super League?
Photo by NazionaleCalcio
Photo by NazionaleCalcio
Photo by Robert Hertel
Photo by Ben Sutherland
Photo by NazionaleCalcio
Main image: Asian football