Chinese Super League clubs begin transfer window in earnest

The winter transfer window officially opened for the Chinese Super League on 16th January, and clubs have already begun to make moves to change their squads ahead of the 2023 season.

Changchun Yatai Departures

Changchun Yatai finished a disappointing 13th place in the 2022 Chinese Super League, just one season after storming to an impressive fourth-place finish. Chen Yang is in dire need of changes, with the team fairly unchanged in 2022 from its 2021 counterpart, bar one or two minor moves in pre-season and the mid-season additions of He Guan and Peter Zulj.

2023 needs to be different for the club, otherwise, Chen Yang’s future as manager will come under serious questioning, and changes have already begun with a number of key players officially departing the club this month. Influential Brazilian winger Erik’s contract expired at the turn of the year. He immediately took the opportunity to take his talents back to Japan after two years away, joining J2 League side Machida Zelvia.

Erik was a strong addition to Changchun and truly came into his own during his second season. Via TransferMarkt, Erik scored 16 goals and 10 assists in his 50 appearances for the club. The club officially records him as having 17 goals and 11 assists. Either way, he was a key part of the team and would have been an important player moving forward had he wished to stay.

Alongside him was the official announcement that 2021 Chinese Super League top goal scorer Júnior Negrão was also leaving the club. In some social media posts, it was actually revealed that the Brazilian striker, who had scored 23 goals in 39 total games, had left a month prior to the end of the season for family reasons. It was a decision the club agreed with, and now he has become a free agent at the age of 36.

Serginho, Erik and Júnior’s fellow countryman, is also out of contract and reports have linked him with different moves back home after spending four-and-a-half years playing in Asia. Serginho was a part of the 2020 Changchun Yatai squad that won China League One and he has been one of the best players on the team throughout his three seasons at the club.

In 57 games, the midfielder scored 16 goals and added 13 assists and will be viewed as a big loss to the team, though reports do suggest they have already found a replacement in Costa Rican Elías Aguilar. Chen Yang has plenty of work to do this off-season, and clearing room to bring in new faces is a sensible approach for a team that needs a refresh.

Zhejiang Strengthening

While Changchun Yatai began their off-season by stripping down their squad, 2022 third-placed Zhejiang FC have started by adding new faces and re-signing one of their key players. Nyasha Mushekwi, who has been with the club since 2019 and has already amassed 55 goals in all competitions since leaving Dalian Professional, has extended his stay and looks set to be an integral part once again as they hope to improve on the best season in club history.

Joining Mushekwi is some solid defensive help in the form of centre-back Li Tixiang from Guangzhou City and Gabon-Chinese defensive midfielder Qian Jiegei (Alexander N’Doumbou) from Shanghai Shenhua. With 203 professional games under his belt, 142 in the Chinese Super League, Li Tixiang will provide excellent depth for Zhejiang’s backline, supporting either Gu Chao or Zhao Bo in goal, while Qian Jiegei racked up 94 appearances while playing for Shenhua since 2019.

A strong squad has become stronger with just two new additions. Having Mushekwi return for another season only adds to what head coach Jordi Vinyals has accomplished. The club will be viewed as genuine contenders next season and will not be overlooked as they were when they first secured promotion back to the top tier a year ago.

Wuhan Three Towns Lose Marcão

Wuhan Three Towns have not long celebrated a historic third consecutive league title across all three professional tiers of Chinese football, but they will enter the 2023 season without their top player, Marcão. The Brazilian striker played a critical role in securing the club the China League One title in 2021, netting 11 goals in 19 games in the second tier, and he had an even greater impact when the club played their debut season in the Chinese Super League.

In 26 appearances in the Chinese top tier, Marcão claimed the league’s golden boot award with 27 goals, the highest season total since Eran Zahavi’s 29 in the 2019 season. However, after two successful seasons in China, claiming league titles in both, Marcão now takes his talents to Saudi Arabia to play for Al Ahli in the Saudi First Division, the second tier of football competition in the country after their relegation in 2022.

The loss will be significant for the reigning Chinese Super League champions, but the quality they have throughout their squad should still see them compete at the top end of the table, especially once a replacement for the Brazilian is found. Winning a title makes a team an attractive destination, and the 2023 off-season could see plenty of movement in the central Chinese city, especially with the future of city rivals Wuhan Yangtze River expected to come to a head very soon.