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Chinese football has been making headlines across the globe over the past couple of weeks after a flurry of big money deals for sought after players. For many years now players who have spent the bulk of their careers in Europe have gone on to enjoy their twilight years in pastures new on healthy salaries in the United States or the Middle East.
News of Steven Gerrard’s switch to the MLS or Xavi’s move to Qatar didn’t really surprise anyone with both players well into their mid-30s and either unwilling or unable to play for another top European club.
However with 28 year old Ramires among a number of players in the supposed peaks of their career to switch major European leagues for China over the past couple of weeks, there is the feeling that this could be landmark moment in the development of football in the 21st Century.
Certainly only a few months ago, nobody could have foreseen that Ramires would now be playing in China. While the emergence of Nemanja Matic in Chelsea’s title-winning 2014-15 campaign saw his game-time become more limited, the Brazilian was still highly valued by Chelsea and particularly Mourinho who was always an admirer of his workman-like qualities and the job that he did for the team.
His importance to the side had if anything increased this season with numerous other midfielders at the club under-performing and Ramires had already made 21 appearances for Chelsea this term, only nine fewer than he made in all of last season.
The Brazilian signed a 4 year contract extension at Stamford Bridge as recently as October, so why less than three months on did he swap arguably the best league in the world for a club that even many ardent followers of the beautiful game had never heard of?
Money and change in tactics
Money is the obvious answer and is clearly a factor but he wasn’t exactly making pittance in West London so it is far from the only reason for this transfer. The departure of Jose Mourinho just weeks after he’d signed that new contract is another key factor in his Chelsea exit with Guus Hiddink keen to play a more expansive game and one where the qualities of Ramires were less valued.
That may have left the Brazilian looking on from the sidelines for much of the remainder of the campaign and he may have thought that a move away was the best way of reinvigorating his career, especially with uncertainty hanging over exactly who will be in charge of Chelsea next season and whether or not they would see a place for him.
His involvement in the Champions League for Chelsea would have made him an unattractive January target for many of Europe’s top clubs, but there are certainly many clubs around the continent who would have been able to find a role for the versatile Brazilian in their squad.
Some sense behind the deal
The deal may have raised eyebrows for many reasons, but there is also some sense behind it and it is clear how all parties can benefit from it. Chelsea for one have made what for them is a relatively rare profit on a player that was in danger of increasingly becoming merely on the fringe of the first-team.
Jiangsu Suning and Chinese football as a whole have made a clear statement of intent by pulling off a reported £25 million transfer that it’s virtually impossible to imagine any club outside of Europe being capable of.
If the aim was to get people talking about the Chinese Super league it has certainly done that and while the price may seem a little inflated, players of the calibre of Ramires already being a part of the league will certainly help attract others over the coming years.
As for Ramires, his options for the remainder of the season seemed to either be a bit-part role at Chelsea or at best a loan move to lesser European club. Moving to China not only earns him a healthy pay-day, but the chance to become something of a trailblazer in Chinese football.
Not a losing situation
In some ways, he can’t really lose. If the league really kicks off and starts to attract huge interest, he could become a genuine star in a country with a large and growing economy, which would present him with enormous commercial opportunities, while the standard of football is likely to grow quite quickly.
If it doesn’t he can most probably engineer a move back to Europe easily enough, perhaps even as soon as this summer when more clubs are likely to be in the market for new players and when Ramires may find a better club than he would have in the last window.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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