Chinese Super League: What happened to the division's 15 most expensive signings?

Hulk & Oscar both signed for Shanghai

For a number of years, Chinese Super League clubs spent big to bring in some of the best players in European football.

That’s all changed now, but for a while it wasn’t uncommon to see a member of the division splash £25 million or more on one footballer.

So with the Chinese Super League’s days of lavish spending now at an end, it begs the question; what happened to all those mega-money signings.

Well, using Transfermarkt, we’ve decided to take a look at the recent career paths of the 15 most expensive acquisitions.

Let’s begin…

15. Anderson Talisca (£17.28m, Guangzhou Evergrande, 2019)

Talisca was tipped for big things after lighting up the European game at Besiktas and Benfica, but he opted to move to China at a relatively young age instead.

The 27-year-old attacking midfielder excelled at Guangzhou, scoring 39 goals and assisting a further 13 in 65 games. Talisca is now plying his trade at  Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia, where he’s been since 2021.

14. Axel Witsel (£18.00m, Tianjin Quanjian, 2017)

After five years in Russia with Zenit Saint Petersburg, Witsel chose the Chinese Super League as his next destination and it turned out to be a bit of a masterstroke.

The Belgium international smashed it at Tianjin Quanjian, which prompted Borussia Dortmund to spend big to acquire his signature in 2018. Witsel is still a key player for the Bundesliga outfit.

13. Marek Hamsik (£18.00m, Dalian Professional, 2019)

Unlike Talisca and Witsel, Hamsik moved to China towards the end of his career. The Napoli icon spent two years in the Far East, before joining Swedish club IFK Goteborg.

The Slovakian midfielder didn’t last long in Scandinavia, though, and can now be found in Turkey with Trabzonspor at the tender age of 34.

Hamsik in action

12. Chengdong Zhang (£18.39m, Hebei Fortune, 2017)

The only Chinese player to feature in the 15-man list, Zhang – who can play as a winger or as a full-back – is still on the books at Hebei Fortune.

He’s played 110 games for the club in total, scoring nine goals and assisting an additional 15. Before joining the Langfang-based outfit, Zhang spent time on loan at European sides Rayo Vallecano and Eintracht Braunschweig.

11. Odion Ighalo (£20.97m, Changchun Yatai, 2017)

Ighalo was absolutely electric for Changchun Yatai. In his 55 appearances for the club, the Nigerian striker scored 36 goals, earning him a move to Shanghai Shenhua in 2019.

The former Watford man then spent a year on loan at Manchester United starting from January 2020, before joining Al Shabab in Saudi Arabia – where he’s scoring goals for fun once again.

10. Marko Arnautovic (£22.50m, Shanghai SIPG, 2019)

Arguably the last of the big-money signings made by Chinese Super League clubs. Arnautovic joined from West Ham and netted 20 goals in 39 games for Shanghai SIPG, an impressive return.

The 2018 Austrian Footballer of the Year returned to Europe for the 2021/22 season, joining Serie A outfit Bologna and he’s already a key player at the club.

Arnautovic in action

9. Ramires (£25.20m, Jiangsu Suning, 2016)

Ramires spent three years in China after leaving Chelsea and then returned to his native Brazil in 2019 with Palmeiras.

Despite signing a four-year contract, Ramires and the club parted ways by mutual consent in November 2020 and he’s been a free agent ever since. The all-action midfielder is still only 34 years old.

8. Anthony Modeste (£26.10m, Tianjin Quanjian, 2017)

Modeste left FC Koln for the Chinese Super League in 2017 and like many on this list, he absolutely smashed it. In 29 games with Tianjin Quanjian, the French striker scored 16 goals and assisted a further nine.

But in August 2018, Modeste went AWOL and returned to Germany with Koln, eventually signing a contract until 2023. The 33-year-old has been on fire for the Bundesliga outfit in 2021/22, netting 16 goals in 23 appearances across all competitions.

7. Yannick Carrasco (£27.00m, Dalian Professional, 2018)

Like Witsel, Carrasco used the Chinese Super League as a springboard to get his career back on track. The Belgian winger joined Dalian Professional from Atletico Madrid at a fairly young age in 2018 and was simply magnificent. 

Twenty-four goals in 52 appearances in the Far East saw Atletico re-sign him on loan in 2020 and they made the move permanent that same year. He’s currently one of Diego Simeone’s most important players.

Carrasco in action

6. Cedric Bakambu (£36.00m, Beijing Guoan, 2018)

In 2018, Bakambu was a wanted man, but instead of swapping Villarreal for a top European club, he chose to move to the Chinese capital.

From a goalscoring perspective, it was a wise choice. Bakambu scored 58 times in total and finished as the Chinese Super League’s top goal-getter in 2020. He completed a transfer to Marseille this month, finding the back of the net on debut versus Lens.

5. Jackson Martinez (£37.80m, Guangzhou Evergrande, 2016)

After failing to live up to expectation in his sole season at Atletico Madrid, Martinez joined Guangzhou Evergrande, where he struggled even more. Injuries restricted him to just 16 appearances for the club.

Martinez then moved to Portuguese side Portimonense on a permanent basis in 2019, before surprisingly calling time on his career in 2020. As we reported HERE, the 35-year-old is now a Christian hip-hop artist. A pretty crazy story, it has to be said.

4. Paulinho (£37.80m, Guangzhou Evergrande, 2018)

Paulinho actually had two separate stints at Guangzhou Evergrande either side of a spell with Barcelona and he’s without question of the Chinese outfit’s greatest ever players.

The marauding midfielder won three Chinese Super League titles with the club and scored a whopping 75 goals in 176 games, a record that a striker would be proud of. Paulinho recently returned to Brazil with Corinthians after a short stay at Saudi Arabian team Al-Ahli.

Paulinho in action

3. Alex Teixeira (£45.00m, Jiangsu Suning, 2016)

Another player who was courted by Europe’s elite, including Liverpool, but decided that the money in the Far East was simply too good to turn down.

During his five years in the Chinese Super League, Teixeira scored 73 goals and assisted another 43 in 153 games, while he also won a league title in 2020. The 32-year-old signed for Besiktas back in the summer of 2021, penning a three-year contract.

2. Hulk (£50.22m, Shanghai SIPG, 2016)

After scoring goals for fun at FC Porto and Zenit Saint Petersburg, Hulk decided to go and tear up the Chinese Super League for a few years.

The muscular Brazilian forward contributed to 130 goals (76G, 54A) in 145 games out in Shanghai, a pretty ridiculous record. Hulk returned to his homeland with Atlético Mineiro in 2021, helping the team win a historic treble and finishing as country’s top scorer for the year.

1. Oscar (£54.00m, Shanghai SIPG, 2017)

The man who, according to the Mirror, banks around £563,000-a-week at Shanghai has been an incredible servant to the club since signing from Chelsea in 2017 as a 25-year-old.

Oscar has netted 50 goals and setup his teammates on 93 occasions in 170 appearances and given the decline of the Chinese Super League of late, he surely needs to return to European football sooner rather than later, right?

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