China said Monday it will cut foreign player numbers in top-flight teams to curb massive spending on overseas talent, with Chelsea’s Diego Costa the latest to be linked to a big-money move.
Teams in the Chinese Super League will be able to field no more than three foreigners in a match when the new 2017 season begins in March, according to new rules posted on the Chinese Football Association website.
Previously four non-Chinese players were allowed, provided one was from an Asian Football Confederation country.
The organisation also said it would act to rein in the “recent appearance of irrational investments and the payment of high transfer fees and salaries for domestic and foreign footballers”.
The decision comes in the middle of the winter transfer window, which began January 1, and could disrupt some deals already in the works.
Big business backers of Chinese Super League clubs, encouraged by football fan President Xi Jinping’s vision of China becoming one of the game’s superpowers, hosting and winning a World Cup, have lavished money on their teams alongside heavy investment in grassroots development.
China last month broke the Asian transfer record for the fifth time in a year when Shanghai SIPG paid Chelsea 60 million euros ($63 million) for Brazilian midfielder Oscar.
At the same time across the city, Shanghai Shenhua were reportedly making Argentina’s former Manchester United and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez the world’s highest-salaried player.
The two were the latest in a stream of foreign players — many from South America — flowing into China in recent years in return for eye-watering wages.
But Chelsea manager Antonio Conte Sunday dismissed there was a Chinese bid for Costa.
“I don’t know anything about this (offer from China). The club did not inform me about this. That can be only speculation,” he said after his Premier League leaders beat Leicester 3-0 without Costa, who was omitted amid reports of an argument with fitness coach Julio Tous and interest from clubs in China.
Football fans and authorities fear the influx of foreign talent will come at the cost of potential homegrown heroes, preferring that hefty sums be reserved for nurturing local talent.
China, ranked 82nd in the world, punch well below their weight in international competition, having qualified only once for the World Cup finals, in 2002, where they failed to win a match or score a goal.