Years ago, when David Beckham left soccer's richest club, Real Madrid, to sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy in MLS, many thought the the US league would be Europe's top competitor for the world's best talent. However if this January transfer window has proven anything, it's that China instantly leapfrogged the MLS with its bottomless pockets.
While the MLS has only been able to attract Europe's stars after they are noticeably past their prime, the Chinese league is luring talent young and old with its ability to pay eight figure salaries without batting an eye lash. Even if MLS's top clubs wanted to, the league's salary cap restricts them as much as the lack of revenue.
Not even the top clubs in Europe's top leagues were immune to the Chinese's advances with Chelsea losing young Brazilian starlet to Shanghai SIPG after the club was offered 60 million pounds for the 25-year-old. Shanghai didn't stop there as they brought in former Manchester United star Carlos Tevez this month as well. Tevez enjoyed a long career playing for several top clubs in Europe before returning to his first club Boca Juniors in his native Argentina in 2015. It has been reported that Shanghai has made the 32-year-old the sports highest paid player with an annual salary of $41 million for the next two years.
Belgian international Witsel also made the move to China, which may have been the biggest blow to Europe's elite. Italian giants Juventus had been trying to pry him away from Zenit St. Petersburg, but he instead signed with the club Tianjin Quanjian after they gave him a contract that will pay him 16 million euros per year. The Russians received 50 million as a transfer fee parting gift.
Could we be seeing a shift of power in the soccer world? If mid-tier stars are commanding such high salaries, how much are the stars on clubs such as Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona thinking they could command? Messi and Ronaldo are by far and away the two highest earners, getting paid more than some entire teams alone, however when Witsel is making more in salary than Neymar, how long will it be until Neymar starts to think about China? It could be only a matter of time before a Chinese club offers his 50 million to suit up for them, if it hasn't happened already.
This development if nothing else should be interesting to keep an eye on over the next couple years. At the very least it has made this upcoming summer transfer window that much more exciting.
Photo: Flickr/Nazionale Calcio