Carving out a Niche
African football players feature prominently in the Chinese leagues
By Éric Vincent Fomo  ·  2018-12-06  ·   Source: | VOL.10 December 2018
Senegal’s Makhete Diop of Beijing Renhe celebrates his goal (YANG QING)

The Chinese Football Association Super League (CSL) has broken yet another record. Indeed, the league's record recruitment budget of 388 million euros ($342.76 million) was broken this season. In 2018, more than 470 million euros ($415.19 million) have been spent on retaining the best football stars that have come to China in recent years, as well as on attracting even more talented footballers.

And Africans feature prominently in the proceedings. The 2018 season of CSL ended on November 11 with Shanghai SIPG winning the championship. African strikers have made it to the very top of the league. This is the case of Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai) who was the second top scorer with 21 goals, behind Chinese football star Wu Lei (Shanghai SIPG), who scored 27 goals. Among the other top 10 scorers, Congolese Cédric Bakambu (Beijing Sinobo Guoan), Ghanan Frank Acheampong (Tianjin TEDA) and Zimbabwean Nyasha Mushekwi (Dalian Yifang) feature in fourth, seventh and ninth place respectively, with 20, 17 and 16 goals.

Other African players have been busy showcasing their skills. Senegal's Makeni Diop and Cameroon's Benjamin Moukandjo, both of whom play for Beijing Renhe, scored 10 and seven goals, respectively. Dazzling Cameroonian winger Christian Bassogog (Henan Jianye) scored six times over the 27 games he has played, giving his audience much to rejoice with his fast dribbles and precision passes.

Even in China League One, China's second division, a number of Africans figure are among the top 10 scorers. Cameroonian John Mary (Meizhou Hakka) is currently in the second position, with 23 goals. Senegalese André Senghor (Inner Mongolia Zhongyou), for his part, cumulated 21 goals, while South African Dino Ndlovu (Zhejiang Greentown) scored 19 goals. Not far behind, Nigerian Dominic Vinicius (Beijing BG) scored 15 goals, while Guinean Babacar Gueye (Heilongjiang Lava Spring) scored 14 goals.

Congolese Cédric Bakambu (front) of Beijing Sinobo Guoan in a tussle with a Tianjin Quanjian player (YUE YUEWEI)

Impressive performances

Ivorian Jean Evrard Kouassi proved that he made the right choice by leaving Shanghai SPIG last season to join Wuhan Zall. His club cumulated 63 points and finished on top of China League One, thus securing its place in the Chinese Super League for next season. Kouassi was also among the best scorers, cumulating 15 goals. Cameroon's Franck Ohandza, whose club Shenzhen FC finished second in China League One with 53 points, also proved to be a terrific offensive player. He finished the season among the top five scorers in China League One with 17 goals.

Amazing performances on the part of African players were also seen among midfielders and defense players. Kenyan Ayub Timbe Masika (Beijing Renhe) was especially aggressive on the turf. However, Nigerian captain John Obi Mikel (Tianjin TEDA) is going to have a hard time getting his team better position, as TEDA finished with 32 points, ranking No.14. Guizhou Hengfeng Captain, the Nigerian player Festus Baise, did not impress in his role as a central defender. The athletic 38-year-old, who has played in China for 14 years, and his goalkeeper conceded 62 goals and finished with a negative difference of 29 goals.

However, at times, some African players have not been able to fully showcase their talent due to injuries and poor form.

Nigerian Obafemi Martins (Shanghai Greenland Shenhua) and Senegalese Papiss Cisse (Shandong Luneng) have suffered long-term injuries, and have not delighted their Chinese fans with their usual mesmerizing dribbles, aggressiveness and skills, as well as their technical qualities that have delighted their European fans in the past.

Zimbabwean Nyasha Mushekwi (Dalian Yifang) and Ghanaian Richmond Boakye (Jiangsu Suning) have played irregularly this season. But this did not weaken their drive to continue to play next season in the CSL, where they say they still have much to do.

Good marks

African footballers in China have performed as good as, if not better, than other foreign players who have been playing in China this season. It should be noted that of the 64 foreign players playing in China this season, Brazilians make up the lion's share with 31 percent.

Besides Eran Zahavi (Guangzhou R&F), who is the third top scorer with 20 goals, Brazilians include Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng, 17 goals), Alan Kardec (Chongqing Lifan, 16 goals) and Anderson Talisca (Guangzhou Evergrande, 16 goals). Brazilian stars Givanildo Vieira de Sousa and Oscar dos Santos Emboaba, who play for Shanghai SIPG and scored 13 and 12 goals respectively, compete with Cameroon's Christian Bassogog for the title of the top passer. José Paulo (Guangzhou Evergrande) has won the ball almost as many times as Nigerian captain John Obi Mikel.

The money African footballers have been making in China, however, pales in comparison with the wages earned by Brazilian, European and American players in China. However, comfort can be found in the fact that of the 10 highest paid African footballers in the world, four are playing in China.

Huge investments aimed at modernizing Chinese football have generated support and passion at various levels in China, among both sponsors and the public. With a television audience of about half a billion fans and a growing attendance in the stadiums, which is now approaching 25,000 fans per game (23,766) on average, Chinese clubs have benefited from a new momentum. Attendance is even higher than the French average of 20,906 spectators per game. Currently, only England and Spain have higher attendance figures.

Rules limiting the number of foreign players to six per football club for an entire season and to three on any given field per game have certainly hindered the influx of African players wishing to play in China. However, according to rumors, many footballers are waiting for their chance to play in China if their conditions are met. These include Roger Assalé (BSC Young Boys), Nana Ampomah (Beveren), Jonathan Bamba (Lille OSC), Hakim Ziyech (AFC Ajax) and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal).

The fierce competition between China, Europe and America to attract the best players and dominate world football is now becoming more equal. Ultimately, African talents will benefit from this new situation.

(Reporting from Nigeria)

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