The Chinese Goalkeeper Rule Could Be Vital for China’s Development

Yang Zhi

With the ever-increasing influx of big-money signings coming to the Chinese Super League, and some even to League One, there is one spot on the field that remains untouched by foreign feet. Or should that be hands?

The goalkeeper.

In the Chinese leagues, the goalkeepers MUST be Chinese. No clubs can go out and bring Peter Cech or Iker Casillas to the country for example, two players it would be natural to think would perhaps have joined the CSL.

It’s a good thing they haven’t.

Had the rule not been in place it’s safe to assume that a lot of the shot-stoppers in the Chinese leagues would now be foreigners.

If you take the English Premier League as an example, there were five English first-choice goalkeepers in the season just finished. Five. These five were also the only English goalkeepers to get over 10 matches for their teams. In total only eight English goalkeepers took the field in the 2016/17 season.

None of them played for any of the big teams.

Two from Stoke (Lee Grant 28 matches. Jack Butland, 5), two from Burnley (Tom Heaton. 35. Paul Robinson, 3), one from Bournemouth (Ryan Allsop, 1), one from West Brom (Ben Foster, 38) and one from Southampton (Fraser Forster, 38). And yes, I know Joe Hart is out on loan and getting good game time at Torino in Serie A, so that’s a positive as well.

Look at Italy, Spain,, Germany and France, the other “big leagues” in Europe, the numbers are much higher.

Goalkeepers of the same nationality with 10 games or more in the top flight, 2016/17 season:

France – 18

Spain – 18

Italy – 16

Germany – 11

England – 5

If you flip the question on its head and look at the number of foreign goalkeepers in each league with 10 or more games, they tell much the same story.

Number of foreign goalkeepers with 10 or more games in the top flight, 2016/17

England – 21

Italy – 13

Germany – 12

Spain – 10

France – 7

England is at the wrong end of this list as well. There’s more foreign goalies with 10 games or more than there are teams in the league.

There’s a reason the other countries are known to have some very, very, good goalkeepers and England, well. Not really.

We all remember the poor performances in vital moments by English goalkeepers on international duty. Rob Green’s howler in South Africa 2010 and Paul Robinson kicking the air against Croatia in the Euro 2008 Qualifiers. Or even poor Scott Carson, also against Croatia, in the same qualifiers, who fumbled a shot into the net, on his competitive debut. I could go on, but I won’t as that would be to get further off topic.

Back on topic it is then.

Developing your own national talent in the biggest league is a good way of getting the necessary experience required to pull on the national team shirt.

By keeping the “Chinese goalkeepers only”-rule in place, the Chinese FA will give themselves a better chance of a) developing good goalkeepers for the National Team by playing them in one of Asia’s top leagues and, with the recent transfers, against some pretty good players; and b) developing good enough keepers to be able to sell them to the big leagues in Europe.

Of course, the downside to this rule is that the teams might not be willing to sell to Europe that easily and that there could be an inflation in price on goalkeepers moving from team to team within China as no one wants to let a good goalkeeper go to a rival.

All in all this is a good rule that can hopefully give China many great goalkeepers in years to come and prepare the nation with a good last man on the pitch for the future.

With the news that the CFA is looking to clamp down on the big money spending,  it doesn’t look likely that this rule will disappear anytime soon.

And that is a good thing, or else China might turn into the England of Asia.

About the Author

Ola Bjerkevoll
Norwegian studying sports journalism in England. Lover of all football, especially Chinese, German and Oceanian. Twitter: @olabje