Does MLS Have a China Problem?

March 19, 2016, John Terry reacts to a call  when Chelsea played West Ham United at Stamford Bridge Stadium.

March 19, 2016, John Terry reacts to a call when Chelsea played West Ham United at Stamford Bridge Stadium.

Written by Alex Baker

LOS ANGELES – With no club in Major League Soccer having yet come forward with an offer to make him a designated player, Chelsea legend John Terry is currently rumored to be on the verge of a move to China. Were he to join a Chinese Super League outfit, Terry would become the latest in a growing number of players from top European clubs to trod the increasingly well-worn path to the Far East.

Flush with cash and willing to pay above market value for top-name talent, the Super League has made a number of big name signings in the past year. Despite interest from several top European teams, Atletico Madrid striker Jackson Martinez joined Guangzhou Evergrande earlier this year. Gervinho meanwhile, left Roma for Hebei China Fortune. Alex Teixeira bypassed an opportunity to join Liverpool to sign for Jiangsu Suning.

Terry may not exactly be a sought-after commodity in MLS – he has offers, but none that would pay him the kind of money he would earn in China. However, the American top-flight could increasingly find itself competing with the extravagant amounts of cash Chinese clubs are willing to lavish.

One need look no further than the case of Seattle Sounders striker Obafemi Martins, who left MLS to join Shanghai Greenland Shenhua just prior to the start of the season. The Sounders have struggled in the absence of Martins, who was the club’s leading scorer for the past two seasons.

But while the Chinese league might have deeper pockets – it’s clubs spent a combined $296M in the most recent transfer window – so far that money isn’t necessarily translating into a better product on the pitch.

While it’s true that the CSL has signed a number of big names, only four foreign players are allowed on the field at one time. Meaning the league’s quality is largely dependent on that of the native Chinese players. Meanwhile, turnover for foreign players in the CSL has been fairly high.

Didier Drogba did time at a Super League outfit before briefly returning to Chelsea on the way to joining the Montreal Impact. While in China, Drogba played with another former Chelsea star, Nicholas Anelka, who also spent time in the Chinese league before moving on to Juventus and West Brom.

So while it may have emerged as an attractive stopover for stars looking for a big payday, the gulf in quality and prestige between the CSL and MLS remains substantial. But with attendances rising and a new $1.3 billion broadcast deal having been inked, the Super League looks likely to continue growing in prominence.

Although in the case of John Terry, it could all prove to be much ado about nothing. The latest rumors have it that the former England international wants to spurn the big money on offer from China and is determined to sign a new contract with Chelsea.

 

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