Players split on value of China move

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The top 10 players who now call China home

The path East presents a new a financial reality that has enticed not only Australians but some of the world’s best players.

The burgeoning number of world class players trading Europe for China - Hulk, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gervinho to name a few - are changing perceptions about the standard of football in the rapidly-expanding Asian region and challenging club football's status quo.

For a young Australian, what's not to like about a cash-injected league that offers the chance to play alongside world class players at or near their prime? 

While the journey through the language barriers, political agendas and talent-laden lands of Europe can be a perilous one, China - with its foreign player quota system - is is not without its own pitfalls.

The 4+1 rule allows Chinese clubs to have up to five foreign players on the books, with only four of those allowed on the pitch. This puts a heavy price on performance, putting the onus on the player to deliver or die. What's left for foreign player development, when you're shipped out as soon as the goals stop flowing?  

It's a choice that is becoming an increasingly difficult one for Australia's brightest talents. Four Socceroos regulars have traded Europe or Britain for China in the past 18 months. We talked to two players - one based in Europe - and one who has played in both Europe and China, to weigh up the pros and cons of both.  

Adelaide United striker Bruce Djite, who played for Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Sainty, defended the League which he feels deserves more credit for its ability to attract global superstars.

“Shanghai SIPG just signed Hulk you’re looking at a very formidable league and players like that don’t go over there for no reason. It’s a league that deserves the respect from all of us in football.”

Despite China’s growing appeal, many young Aussies still aspire to play in Europe, following in the footsteps of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Mark Schwarzer who carved out reputable Europe careers off the back of the requisite blood, sweat and tears.

Alex Gersbach is one of those players – signing for Norweigan side Rosenburg after a breakout season for Sydney FC that had him touted as one of the hottest young prospects in Australian football.

The 19 year-old, who earned his first call-up to the Socceroos in March, hopes the move to Norway will be a stepping stone to a bigger European club in years to come.

“At the moment I just want to cement my starting place at Rosenborg then take it from there. I want to do well here then hopefully get a move to a bigger club in Europe. Just play well and see what happens,” he said. “I’m at one of the biggest clubs in Norway which is similar to Sydney FC in Australia.”

For Djite, Europe is not the be all and end all - arguing the right coach and player welfare is paramount.

“It’s more on the coaches, Josep Gombau (at Adelaide United) taught me more than any other coach," he said. “My advice to a young player – do what makes you feel comfortable and where you can play the best football.”

Djite is all too familiar with the challenges of playing abroad after moving to Turkish side Genclerbirligi at 21, and Gersbach has learned that chasing the European dream isn’t always as glamorous as it seems.

“Yeah you have some bad days where you wish you weren’t a footballer and you were just at home going to University and going out with your friends.

“It’s only been 5 months so far and there’s already been ups and downs but it’s just about sticking to it and hopefully it will all be worth it in the end”

Australia striker Tomi Juric knocked back a three lucrative offers from the Chinese Super League to sign for Swiss side FC Luzern, a move hailed by Gersbach.

“It’s tough for him because he has so many big offers in China but he obviously wants to cut it in Euorpe and make the most out of it so good on him.”

“I’m sure he’s thinking those offers in china will still be there in a year or two so if it doesn’t quite work out he can always rely on that.”

There’s no denying the money is hard to ignore in China, with footballers understandably trying to earn as much as possible to set themselves up for retirement. As for development,the jury is out on just how much a player will grow in China's brave new world of high wages and high stakes.