Chinese Super League: 'Crazy' transfer window redefines football

    Story highlights

    • Foreign footballers flock to play in China
    • League's TV rights sold for record $1.3B
    • President aims to join soccer superpowers

    Shanghai, China (CNN)It's hard to hear yourself think over the noise -- the beat of several drums paces the supporters' songs which fill the stadium with a cacophonous sound.

    Team scarves drape the necks of every fan, and are hoisted high in celebration after a goal. It's a football match that could be happening anywhere in the world. But this one is notable because it's happening in China.
      Shanghai SIPG is playing Yanbian Fude under lights in the Shanghai Stadium. It's one of a handful of matches taking place in the Chinese Super League -- the country's top league -- which during 2016 has come under increased focus after its clubs spent $296 million in the January-February transfer window.
      But it's not just the money that is being spent on acquiring new players. Attendances have steadily risen over the past few seasons and the league has just sold its broadcast rights for the next five years for $1.3 billion, a record sum.
      One reason for the surge in popularity is the teams are simply better following the arrival of players like Teixeira.
      "A lot of excellent players have come over from Brazil, Europe, South America and other countries," Shanghai SIPG general manager Sui Guoyang told CNN.
      "I think they improved the overall level of the league. The better the expat players, the more it will improve the level of domestic players."
      The influx of foreign talent, especially within the last year or two, has come at breakneck pace. Players like Asamoah Gyan, who captains Ghana's national team, and Elkeson, the Brazilian midfielder who used to star in his country's top league, have signed for SIPG.
      Shanghai SIPG team manager Sui Guoyang (left) signed Argentine midfielder Dario Conca in 2015.
      "It's a new challenge, and it was a good proposal to be a part of Chinese football," said Argentine midfielder Dario Conca, who has played in China since 2011. "I'm really happy with the decision I made."

      'Absolutely crazy'

      It's easy to be happy when you're getting paid. Conca makes a reported $11 million per year. His Shanghai SIPG teammate Gyan reportedly earns $300,000 per week, making him among the 10 highest-paid players in the world.
      When many of those foreign players arrive, they find themselves playing for foreign managers, like former English national team boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, who coaches the Shanghai SIPG squad.
      Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson coaches Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League.
      "Last (transfer) window, that was absolutely crazy," said Eriksson, who has coached in China for three years. "(The foreign stars) want to come to China. They're curious to see what's happening, they know they will earn very good money, so it will be more and more of them."
      However, only four foreign players are allowed on the pitch at once, so to do well it's largely the quality of native Chinese players that counts.
      The Chinese government is doing its part to make sure the level of domestic players continues to rise. Some 20,000 football-themed schools will be in operation around the country by 2020, and football is now a mandatory part of school curriculum.
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      Evergrande Football School, a $185 million "soccer factory" in Qingyuan, Guangdong, is at the epicenter of this national push.
      It's part of President Xi Jinping's push to turn the country into a world football superpower, a herculean task given that China's national team has only qualified for the World Cup once -- in Japan and South Korea in 2002 when it went out in the group stage.
      China is ranked 81st in the official FIFA World Rankings, behind minnows such as Cape Verde and Burkina Faso.
      But ask any of the fans in one of Shanghai SIPG's eight supporters' clubs, and they say the enthusiasm is there to grow the game in China.
      Shanghai SIPG beat Yanbian Fude 3-0, with the home supporters cheering them on under a banner that read "Glory Belongs to Shanghai."
      Whether the glory will ever belong to Chinese soccer as a whole is an open question.
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