The rise of the Chinese Super League

By | March 1, 2016

By Motin Yeung

CSL? Many of you might have never heard of it before. The full name is Chinese Football Association Super League. It was created in 2004 with 12 teams in the league, and now there are 16 teams between which they play each other twice in a season with one being a home game and the other an away game.


Basic info about the league

There are total of 30 rounds, and the two teams that finish at the bottom of the table face relegation at the end of the season. The top three teams in the table qualify to play in the Asian Champions League the next year (basically the Champions League of Asia). The league kicks off in March and last until end of October/beginning of November.

Rules of the league

When a team wins a game, it earns 3 points on the table; when a team ties a game, it earns 1 point; when a team loses a game, it doesn’t earn or lose any points. In terms of ranking, when two teams have the same amount of points in the table, the team with higher positive difference in goals ranks higher. When two teams tie in both amount of points and amount of goals in difference, the ranking is decided by their head to head results.


Foreign players

When the league first started in 2004, each team is only allowed to register 3 foreign players, and only 2 can play at the same time. In 2006, China Football Association altered the rule to allow each team to register 4 foreign players, and 3 can play simultaneously. In 2009, in order to boost the performance of Chinese teams in the Asia Football Champions league (AFC) , the Chinese Football Association decided to implement the 4 + 1 rule, which increases the limitation of foreign players to 5 per team, with at least one of them coming from Asia or Australia. On the field, however, the 3 +1 rule in effect, which means 3 foreign players plus one Asian or Australian player.

The story of the Griffhits brothers in Beijing Guoan.


Among the 16 teams, Beijing Guoan, Shandong Luneng, and Shanghai Shenhua are traditional powerhouse in the league.

Especially Beijing Guoan, as it is the only team in the league that has never changed its name or sponsor since the establishment of the Chinese professional soccer league; therefore, Beijing has arguably the deepest rooted fan base with over nearly 50,000 fans flowing into the Worker Stadium every single game to support their team.

Below is a highlight video for Xu Liang, known as the Chinese Beckham, who has been a crucial midfielder for Beijing in the past years.

In recent years, nonetheless, there have been large investments flowing into the Chinese soccer market. For example, Alibaba and Evergrande bought the Guangzhou soccer team and have made it the most successful team in Asia in the past 5 years, winning 5 consecutive CSL titles and 2 AFC titles (the league is analogous to the Champions league in Europe).

The success of Guangzhou Evergrande is the epidome of a developing trend in the league – investing a vast amount of money in purchasing renowned foreign players in order to facilitate the performance and development of their respective teams. In the coming season we are going to see worldly renowned players such as, former Chelsea player Ramires, former PSG player Lavezzi, Alex Teixeira, not to mention that Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Dario Conca, Diamanti, Gilardino, and Kanoute.


The future of the league

Although the Chinese Super League has been making the headlines recently because of their ridiculously lucrative offers to renowned players like Rooney and Yaya Toure, it is undeniable that the level of the Chinese National Team is still relatively low in the world as the team has failed to make it to the world cup since its first appearance in 2002. However, Chinese soccer is going through a similar stage of development similar to the one Japan went through over a decade ago during which the input of famous foreign players and coaches notably helped the development of Japanese soccer making them a perennial appearance in the world cup. I believe Chinese soccer can and will take advantage of the leadership and the competitiveness from the foreign influences and one day claims its own part on the world stage.

One thought on “The rise of the Chinese Super League

  1. Shaker Samman

    The CSL is really a remarkable example of how money leads to growth. They outbid Liverpool for Texiera. They pulled Ramires away from Chelsea. They added Jackson Martinez, Gervinho, and Obafemi Martins. This is a sign of the future. Not only is the CSL taking the mantle of “Best place to slip into retirement” from the MLS, but it’s making a run at in-form, young European stars. It’s cashing in on young Brazilian prospects, and paying them far more than they would receive in Europe. Sure, you could say Ramires is moving towards the end of his career, and Martins and Gervinho have peaked, but Texiera was one of the biggest ticket items in the last transfer window, and even he ended up in China, to the tune of 50 million euro and a paycheck so large it could get a dorm named after it.

    Bottom line: The CSL is coming, and the MLS, and Liga MX better be prepared.


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