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Arnautovic to China: Why it’s unlikely to happen

Monday 21 January 2019

AS RUMOURS swirl of a huge Chinese bid for West Ham player Marco Arnautovic, Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sports Enterprise at the University of Salford Business School, says a deal may be unlikely due to overseas player limits and tax restrictions.

This story was first published on The Conversation.

Professor Chadwick said: “The ‘Arnautovic to China’ gossip has caused speculation that West Ham United’s Austrian international Marko Arnautovic is heading east in a multi-million pound deal with last season’s Chinese Super League (CSL) winners, Shanghai SIPG or even Guangzhou Evergrande.

“If stories are to be believed, the Shanghai club’s opening gambit was a £35 million bid, though with everything seemingly quiet at the London Stadium subsequent rumours have surfaced that the Austrian’s agent (also his brother) is pushing for a deal worth in the region of £45 million. 

“In this instance, it is mention of Shanghai that is the surprise. Four years ago, President Xi Jinping had just proclaimed his desire for China to become one of the world’s leading football nations. This sparked a transfer frenzy among CSL clubs, resulting in players from Europe and South America moving there for big transfer fees and large wage packets.

“However, the greed of overseas players allied to the ill-judged speculation of Chinese investors was of considerable concern to the government in Beijing. Under instruction from the authorities, the Chinese Football Association set about introducing measures aimed at stemming the flow of ‘overseas mercenaries’ into China’s football clubs.

“The first of these involved the imposition of limits to the number of foreigners in a club’s playing squad. For Arnautovic, and others of his ilk, this remains an important detail that somewhat undermines the stories about the Austrian’s impending arrival out east. SIPG already has its full quota of four overseas players and can’t sign any more unless they sell someone else first. For the time-being at least this doesn’t look likely.

“And then there’s the matter of tax. At one level, its introduction was framed in economic terms: only loss making CSL clubs need to pay the tax. The issue was and is, these clubs typically don’t make a profit, consequently they face a one hundred percent levy on any signings of foreigners such as Arnautovic.

“In these terms, stories about a £45 million SIPG deal for him beg the question: is that including or excluding the tax? If it’s the latter, then were there any substance to the gossip football is on the cusp of its fourth most expensive player in transfer history. For those who know anything about Arnautovic, this could well make them wince.

“It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate that the biggest surprise about Marko Arnautovic’s proposed move to Shanghai will be that it doesn’t happen. Or else, if it does, it will be for a fee that is considerably less than social media’s various communities have been discussing.”

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Sam Wood

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