The January transfer window will open in less than a week and, with clubs drawing up their winter shopping lists, we’ve decided to expand our radar to China, where a host of top talent are currently plying their trade.
Over the last few years, the lucrative contracts on offer in the Chinese Super League have proven irresistible to several players from Europe’s top leagues.
In 2012, Chelsea duo Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka joined the Shanghai Shenhua revolution. Neither player stayed long but, over the next six years, an increasing amount of stars have forged careers in East Asia.
With the January transfer window looming, we’ve picked seven Chinese Super League stars European clubs should target.
The all-action Brazilian enjoyed a successful career in England, winning five trophies in a six-year stint at Chelsea including the 2015 Premier League and the Champions League in 2012.
A regular starter under José Mourinho, the midfielder fell out of favour under Guus Hiddink after he replaced the Portuguese coach in December 2015.
As a result, Ramires left to join Jiangsu Suning in January and has been there since. Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year for the 2011/12 season has endured mixed fortunes in China, however, and in the summer was heavily linked with a return to Benfica, from whom the Blues bought him in 2010.
Still only 31, the 52-time Brazil international would be an attractive candidate for most European clubs. Considering his pedigree, it would be good to see him back competing in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
Once tipped for greatness at Chelsea, Ramires’ fellow countryman is currently spending his best years at Shanghai SIPG.
Having started just five league games under Antonio Conte during the 2016/17 season, the attacking midfielder saw his future in Shanghai and joined super-rich SIPG for a whopping £60million.
Linking up with compatriots Elkeson and Hulk (remember him?), the 27-year-old has found success in the world’s second most populous city, scoring 12 goals and notching 18 assists to help Vítor Pereira’s side to the 2018 Chinese Super League title. Oscar was named in the Team of the Season.
With plenty of time left in his career, there may be an opportunity for Oscar to re-establish himself at a European giant.
Yet another former Chelsea player, the Nigerian midfielder is currently with Tianjin TEDA after ending his 11-year association with the Blues in 2017.
A tactically astute and reliable defensive midfielder, Mikel passed through much of his time under-appreciated at Stamford Bridge but his showing at this year’s World Cup, at which he captained Nigeria in a tough group with Croatia, Argentina and Iceland, proved that he still has plenty to offer at the highest level.
Having played almost 400 games for Chelsea, his experience and nous could prove invaluable to a team in need of stability in the middle of the park.
After scoring 27 times in 44 games for Beşiktaş, the Senegalese forward was snapped up by Shanghai Shenhua. There, he averaged more than a goal every two games in three seasons, with a brief return on loan to Beşiktaş during the off-season in the early months of 2017 not working out as planned.
Ba joined another Turkish outfit, Göztepe, in January this year before returning to Shenhua, netting five times in 17 appearances.
Although he is approaching the autumn of his career, Ba could be a good short-fix option for a team needing reinforcements up top – take note, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Huddersfield.
Failing to impress during the formative stages of his career in China, Hernanes returned to São Paulo, with whom he won two Brazilian titles in 2007 and 2008, before landing back at Langfang Stadium.
The 33-year-old has been linked with a move back to Italy. Parma are among the clubs credited with an interest.
The well-travelled Colombian has been with Shanghai Shenhua since leaving Inter in 2016.
Now 32, Guarín has previously admitted that he found the £10million-a-year contract too good to turn down and has repeatedly spoken of his desire to return to Inter.
Comfortable operating in a number of different midfield roles, the former Porto favourite could become available during the Chinese off-season. Wages may be a stumbling block, of course, Guarín has previously stated he would be willing to take a pay-cut if it meant returning to Italy.
Still only 24, the Brazilian is clearly a cut above most of the opposition in the Chinese Super League. He scored 16 goals and notched four assists in 18 appearances during the 2018 season to help Fabio Cannavaro’s side to second place.
In October, Benfica announced Talisca’s permanent move to the Chinese club but there is a sense that, with a big enough offer, he could be lured back to Europe.
Talisca has never been capped at senior level for Brazil. If he wants to change that, one suspects he’ll need to move elsewhere.
A major hit at Villarreal, Bakambu became the most expensive African footballer of all time after Beijing Guoan agreed to meet the Spanish club’s £35.3million release clause.
The French-born Congolese forward was 26 and making his mark in Europe but any question marks over why he’d decided to up sticks and move to China were answered when L’Équipe revealed he would pocket over £16million annually.
Unsurprisingly, the former France U20 international has found the net with regularity in China, hitting 19 goals in 23 games for The Imperial Guards, who are coached by former Bayern Leverkusen boss Roger Schmidt.
There were tenuous links to Tottenham in October. While that seems unlikely, don’t be surprised if Bakambu’s name pops up in a couple of transfer columns next month.