- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

BEIJING (AP) - The Chinese Super League kicks off on Friday following an offseason in which clubs splashed out $410 million on new players, even as questions emerged about the league’s finances.

Guangzhou Evergrande is chasing a seventh consecutive league title, but faces tougher competition from clubs which have bulked up with foreign talent such as Oscar and Carlos Tevez, now the highest paid player in the world.

The league’s spending exceeded the $263 million on transfers by the 20-team English Premier League, sparking concern from managers in Europe that more top players could be headed east.

It was also more than 16 times what was spent by teams in Spain, where leading teams are owned by fans and invest heavily in home-grown talent, and more than the combined total spent by clubs in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Chinese players have also transferred at high prices, although the Chinese Football Association worries that home-grown talent will lose playing opportunities to the foreigners when it’s trying to improve the national team.

Sports authorities in January issued new rules limiting clubs in the 16-team league to using just three foreign players in games, and hinted at a future salary cap.

New concerns have also risen about the sustainability of the Chinese Super League’s business model, with much of the big spending on players spurred by the sale of the 2016-20 television rights for a record $1.25 billion.

The first two years of the contract were then sold onward to the firm LeSports, which last month had its broadcasting contract with the Asian Football Confederation terminated.

Ticket sales, merchandising, and advertising receipts are also reportedly far from compensating for the vast transfer fees.

Developments in the Chinese Super League come amid a push to develop China into a footballing superpower through the development of 50,000 youth academies by 2025 to train 50 million players.

China’s men have qualified for only one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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