The festive period is drawing to a close, but football’s silly season is about to kick off.
The European winter transfer window is about to open, heralding 31 days of feverish speculation, bids, counter bids and, finally, deals expected to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
As is customary, the rumor mill is already in full swing, with so-called super agent Jorge Mendes — whose clients include Jose Mourinho — revealing an unprecedented offer for Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mendes said the 31-year-old has been the subject of a bid — almost three times bigger than the current world record transfer fee — from an unnamed club in the Chinese Super League.
“From China, they’ve offered €300 million ($315 million) to Real Madrid and more than €100 million ($105 million) per year to the player,” Mendes told Sky Sports Italia.
“But money is not everything; the Spanish club is his life,” he added of his fellow Portuguese.
‘Hard to turn down that sort of money’
While Ronaldo may have turned down the offer now, the four-time Ballon D’Or winner could eventually end up playing in the Far East, says Tom Williams, a London-based sports correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“I can’t see Ronaldo going to China anytime soon, but if he is still playing at the age of 38-39 — which he says he will be — I think it would be hard to turn down that sort of money,” Williams told CNN World Sport.
The Chinese Super League has enticed a number of top footballers in recent months.
Former Brazil striker Hulk joined Shanghai SIPG in June for a then Asian record of $57 million, and the club topped that by capturing his compatriot, Chelsea midfielder Oscar, for a reported $74 million with a weekly salary of $491,000.
Then this week its city rival Shanghai Shenhua confirmed a deal for Boca Juniors’ former Argentina striker Carlos Tevez, which will reportedly be worth a stratospheric $760,000 per week to 32-year-old former Juventus, Manchester City and Manchester United star.
Unhappy players targeted
Williams predicts that players like Brazil international Oscar, who at 25 has his best footballing years ahead of him, will increasingly be targeted by rich Asian clubs with the deepest of pockets.
“I think if Oscar had become a fundamental component of Antonio Conte’s Chelsea team I don’t think he would have given (Shanghai’s offer) a second thought, but he’s not playing and there’s a team on the other side of the world willing to throw all this money at him,” Williams said.
“I think players like Tevez and Oscar will be the target. Players with a big international profile who aren’t necessarily playing week in, week out for their teams.”
The eye-watering amounts of money being offered for the likes of Oscar, Tevez and Ronaldo from China suggest that Europe’s biggest clubs will have to look after their prized possessions more carefully in the future.
“When leading players start being taken from the biggest clubs against the wishes of their clubs and managers then perhaps we’ll have a real power shift,” Williams says.
“But already China have completely changed the landscape and it will be interesting to see how many of these big name players it can lure over.”
China crisis for Europe’s biggest clubs?
More than $1.4 billion was spent in corresponding window last season, so what can we expect this time around?
It’s a tricky one to call, Williams says, especially in the English Premier League — where the top teams are quite quiet, while those in the bottom half of the table tend to spend more in a bid to stave off relegation.
But the China element could change all that, Williams argues.
“Suddenly you’ve got clubs where money is no object, who can legitimately hope to buy any player in the world in terms of finances — that’s an interesting dynamic,” he says.
“If you have anyone who is remotely unhappy or getting as much playing time as he’d like — whether there is interest from China or not — you will have their agents going to their clubs and saying, ‘Look, Shanghai or another team are going to put this money on the table what are you going to come back with?’
“That has the potential to be quite destabilizing.”
For now, Paul Pogba’s €105 million ($120 million) move from Juventus to Manchester United in August remains the highest fee paid for a footballer.
How long the France star holds that honor remains to be seen.