Top five all-time goal scorers in Chinese Super League history

Chinese Super League

2024 marks 20 years since the first season of the Chinese Super League, and plenty of players have scored goals in the competition since its inception.

While professional football began in China in 1994, it was ten years later that the Chinese Super League officially began.

While fans have been spoilt with many exciting goals throughout the years, who have been the players to find the back of the net the most since the league’s inception in 2004?

Here are the top five all-time goal scorers in Chinese Super League history, so far!

5. Ricardo Goulart

Kicking off this list is a player who won everything there is in China and Asian football in general; Brazilian attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart.

The 33-year-old began his career with Santo André in his home country back in 2009, before making a €15 million move to Guangzhou Evergrande in 2015, signing a four-year deal at the time of signing.

Goulart would play a key role in the team’s dominance throughout the 2010s, winning three Chinese Super League titles, the 2016 Chinese FA Cup, the Chinese Super Cup three times and the 2015 Asian Champions League.

Despite scoring 13 goals in 19 matches in 2018, Goulart was loaned to Palmeiras for the 2019 season, where he struggled with injuries and made just 12 total appearances before returning to China.

He played the 2020 season on loan at Hebei China Fortune, scoring four goals in 18 league matches before moving home permanently with Santos. After the 2023 season, Goulart announced his retirement from football at the age of 31.

His hugely successful spell in China saw him score enough goals to reach fifth on this list. In 135 league appearances (including pandemic-altered playoff fixtures), Goulart netted an impressive 82 times.

4. Gao Lin

Next on our list is the first domestic Chinese player. Gao Lin is a hugely recognisable figure within Chinese football, having amassed 513 total appearances across three spells with Shanghai Shenhua, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

Born in Zhengzhou, Henan, Gao Lin began his career with Shenhua, whom he had played for at youth level between 2001 and 2004, making his professional debut with the Shanghai club back in 2005.

After making just six appearances at club level, Gao Lin made the first four of 109 international appearances (22 goals) for the China National Team that same year.

He won the A3/East Asian Champions Cup in 2007 before making a move to then-China League One side Guangzhou in 2010, where he would have the most successful spell of his entire career.

After winning the second tier title, Gao Lin played a crucial role in eight Chinese Super League titles, two AFC Champions Leagues, two Chinese FA Cups and four Chinese Super Cups, while also making the Chinese Super League Team of the Year three times in 2012, 2016 and 2017.

At the age of 34, and at the end of Guangzhou’s dominant era, he made the move to Shenzhen, where he continued his strong performances over three seasons – making his final appearance for the club in the 2022 season.

All considered, Gao Lin featured in 333 Chinese Super League matches with the three clubs and he found the back of the net an impressive 91 times. His impressive scoring made him a feature of the China National Team, where he became the fifth player to reach 100 caps, finishing with the second-most in the country’s history with 109 behind Li Weifeng’s 112.

3. Eran Zahavi

With the previous two players having scored their goals in spells with multiple clubs, third on our list is a player who managed their impressive feat with just the one.

Israeli international striker Eran Zahavi was one of the most recognisable players during his four-year stint with now-defunct club Guangzhou City between 2016 and 2020.

After a dominant spell with Maccabi Tel Aviv in his home country, scoring 119 goals across all competitions over the previous three years, Zahavi was snappy up by the blue club in Guangzhou, who benefitted from his extremely natural touch in front of goal.

While he never enjoyed the club success of others on this list, Zahavi did claim Player of the Year in the league in 2017, finishing as top scorer in 2017 and 2019 while also being named to the league’s Team of the Year in both of those seasons, with 27 and 29 his best returns in league play while playing in the deep Chinese south.

Zahavi continues to play well at the age of 36, having moved to PSV Eindhoven during the 2020 season, before returning to Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2022, where he has combined for 64 goals over the past two seasons in all competitions.

In 106 Chinese Super League appearances, all spent with Guangzhou City (previously known as Guangzhou R&F), Zahavi netted 91 times. While he tied with Gao Lin in terms of goals scored, he did so in significantly fewer games and deserved to be placed higher on this list as a result.

2. Ai Kesen/Elkeson

Next on our list is a player who continues to ply his trade in the Chinese Super League, and is the only fully naturalised player on the list – Ai Kesen (previously known as Elkeson).

Ai Kesen has been one of the most dominant players in the league ever since joining Guangzhou Evergrande from Botafogo in 2013, and he is just one of two players on this list who still currently play in the league.

Upon arrival in southern China, Ai Kesen’s best single season goal tally was 11 in 2012, but he hit the ground sprinting when he came to the Middle Kingdom with 24 and 28 goals to his name in his first two seasons.

Injuries have blighted his stellar career in China, and he would easily top this current list if he had been able to play even half of his 12 seasons there in their entirety, with 28 being the most appearances he has made in the league in any one year – with that coming in the 2014 season.

Despite missing large portions of each season, sometimes as much as half or more, Ai Kesen found the net in regular fashion and while he averaged around 9 goals a season after his first two storming years, he has managed to place himself firmly in second on this list.

In 218 leagues games, and counting since he continues to play for Chengdu Rongcheng, having also had a spell with Shanghai Port sandwiching his two times with Guangzhou, Ai Kesen has scored an impressive 132 times.

What makes his contributions even more impressive is the fact that he has also provided on a further 54, taking his total goal contributions up to 186 so far – becoming the poster boy for naturalisation, which has seen him net five goals in 19 appearances for the China National Team.

1. Wu Lei

While Hao Haidong was once considered the best Chinese striker of his era, still holding the record number of goals for the China National Team, it is Shanghai Port’s Wu Lei who has scored the most goals in the Chinese Super League and should generally be viewed as the greatest goalscorer of his generation and perhaps even of any generation in China.

He has been a picture of consistency in front of goal throughout his career in China, and may even have a much higher record on this list had the first seven years of his professional career not been spent in China League One and Two, with Shanghai Port not reaching the Chinese Super League until 2013.

By that time, Wu Lei was just 22 years old, but had been playing for the first team since he was 14, having scored 49 goals from the age of 17 before the team’s promotion to the top tier.

Already adept at scoring, Wu Lei continued that from the get go and has never scored fewer than 11 goals in any single season, including the current iteration, where he has already netted 16 times in just 15 games in 2024.

Wu Lei played 124 games in China League One before 2013, but since Port’s promotion he has amassed 229 Chinese Super League appearances for the club and has scored an astonishing 147 times – a figure that looks certain to continue climbing for the foreseeable future.

His impressive form earned him a spell with Spanish club Espanyol, where he struggled to make a significant impact but managed to score 10 goals in 103 league appearances between 2018 and 2022 – when he decided to return home and pick up where he left off.