At the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, more and more hot topics in relation to Chinese football arise. The “Hope of Chinese Football” scored in the derby match in Catalonia, helped his team to get a draw in the last minute, and became the first Chinese player to score a goal in a match with Barcelona club, which became the focus of the domestic and foreign media for a while. The Chinese national football team that always said “sorry” has determined the new manager. One of the “Jianlibao Four Stars” has almost become the youngest manager in the history of the Chinese national football team, which brings both hope and doubt. Although the topics of “players abroad” and “national football team” always attract the most attention, the professional league is the fundamental and cornerstone in the process of one country’s football development. On the last day of 2019, Chinese Football Association (hereinafter referred to as the “CFA“) published the Notice on the Adjustment of Professional League Policies in Season 2020 (hereinafter referred to as the “2020 League Policies“), which has formulated new rules and policies on the issues such as “naturalized players” and “salary cap” that have attracted attention and even controversy in Season 2019, and lay the tone for the development of Chinese football professional leagues in the new season. This paper reviews and analyzes the key points in the 2020 League Policies is combed in order to provide preliminary guidance for clubs and players.
- Policy on Naturalized Players
The topic of naturalized players has aroused hot discussion in 2019. After more and more foreign players are naturalized, in addition to whether they can really improve the actual performance of the Chinese national football team, whether it will affect the fair development of the leagues is another issue of concern. This issue has been listed as item No. 1 in the 2020 League Policies, which can indicate its importance.
According to the different requirements of naturalization, the 2020 League Policies categorize the naturalized players into three types:
类型一 – 视同国内球员注册和报名
Type I – Registered and enrolled as a domestic player
The player was born on the territory of the CFA; or
The player’s biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the CFA; or
The player’s biological grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the CFA.
This article actually corresponds to a consanguineous naturalized player. From the perspective of identity recognition, the naturalized players with Chinese descent are the most easily accepted to represent the Chinese national football team, so the registration and enrollment policies also give the loosest requirements which have no difference from domestic players.
The left-mentioned requirements for naturalization directly follows the provisions of the FIFA Statue. It should be noted that:
Strictly speaking, the current wording does not exactly correspond to consanguineous naturalized players. For instance, if one player is born on the territory of the CFA without any Chinese descent, he/she can still be registered and enrolled as a domestic player.
This article does not require the naturalized players to have the official competition qualification of the national team.
类型二 – 视同国内球员注册，每家中超俱乐部可按国内球员报名1人，其他按外援报名，中甲、中乙俱乐部无该类球员注册和报名名额
Type II – Registered as a domestic player. The CFA Super League club is allowed to enroll one player of such type as a domestic player and can only enroll other players of such type as foreign players. The China League club and the China League Two club are not allowed to register and enroll the players of such type.
The naturalized players fail to satisfy any of the requirements for the Type I player but satisfy any of the following requirements:
After five years of naturalization; or
Having the official competition qualification of the national team.
This article actually corresponds to two types of naturalized players without Chinese descent: (1) those who have the official competition qualification of the national team; or (2) those who do not have the official competition qualification of the national team but have been naturalized for five years, and the type (1) is actually the focus of the introduction of naturalized players. For such naturalized players:
Each CFA Super League club is only allowed to enroll one player of such type as a domestic player;
Except for the above item 2, each CFA Super League club can only enroll other players of such type as foreign players;
The China League club and the China League Two Club are not allowed to register and enroll the players of such type.
类型三 – 视同国内球员注册，但按外援报名
Type III – Registered as a domestic player but enrolled as a foreign player
The naturalized players who fail to satisfy any of the requirements for the Type I or Type II.
The main purpose of accepting the naturalization of foreign players is to hope that they can play on behalf of the Chinese national team, so as to solve the problem of insufficiency of excellent players in a certain period of time. If the club introduces a large number of naturalized players who do not have the official competition qualification of the national team to play as domestic players for their own competition results, it will not only fail to achieve the purpose of improving the performance of the national team, but also cause unfairness to other clubs. Therefore, it is necessary to restrict such behaviors.
According to this article, for any naturalized player who does not have the official competition qualification of the national team, even if he/she has acquired Chinese nationality, he/she can only be enrolled as a foreign player within five years. It will objectively reduce the club’s motivation to introduce such type of naturalized players.
The new policy on naturalized players aims to reduce the damage to the fairness of the league caused by the club’s introduction of a lot of naturalized players in order to achieve short-sighted results. However, the following problems still need to be solved in the connection of Type III and Type II:
The Type III players who have been naturalized for more than five years can be recognized as Type II. However, the existing provision does not specify whether the five-year period is “continuous” or “cumulative”. Although it is rare to change the nationality frequently in practice, it is suggested to make it clear from the perspective of a rigorous policy.
According to the current wording, the China League club can use Type III players (as foreign players). However, after five years of naturalization, if any player of such type is not employed by the CFA Super League club, since the China League club and the China League Two club are not allowed to register and enroll the Type II players, such player will not be able to play in any league on behalf of any Chinese professional football club. Similarly, if the Type II players having the official competition qualification of the national team cannot find jobs in the CFA Super League, they will not be able to play in any level of leagues in any capacity. It is suggested to allow them to be registered and enrolled as foreign players at least.
- Policy on Remuneration
On December 20, 2018, the CFA released the Financial Index of CFA Super League Club (2019-2021), which stipulated the proportion limit of total remuneration of the CFA Super League club and the maximum remuneration limit of domestic players for the three seasons of 2019-2021. Based on the above index, the 2020 League Policies further specify and refine the remuneration policies of domestic players, foreign players and U21 players:
The total annual pre-tax amount (excluding bonus) of remuneration in all contracts newly signed by and between the domestic players and the CFA Super League club after November 20, 2019 shall not exceed RMB 10 million, including but not limited to signing fees, portrait rights commission, real estate, vehicles, stocks, bonds, etc. For the players who are selected into the national team (subject to the final enrollment list of each match in the World Cup, Asian Cup and World Cup qualifier, Asian Cup qualifier), the above limit is increased to RMB 12 million.
These limits are consistent with those stipulated in the Financial Index of CFA Super League Club (2019-2021), but the scope of “remuneration” is further specified. In particular, a filing and recognition mechanism is adopted for the commercial contracts signed by players and any third party to prevent the club from paying remuneration in other forms and breaking through the limit in disguise.
All commercial contracts signed by and between players and any third party rather than the club shall be recognized by the CFA or the authorized organization of the CFA:
The commercial endorsement contract shall be filed with the CFA or the authorized organization of the CFA;
The players or clubs need to provide documents to prove that there is no relationship between the commercial contract and the club or the company they represent;
The CFA or the authorized organization of the CFA shall establish a special committee to determine whether the commercial contract cost is reasonable. If it is unreasonable, the contract amount will be included in the total remuneration of the players.
The total after-tax amount (excluding bonus) of remuneration in all contracts newly signed by and between the foreign players and the club after January 1, 2020 shall not exceed Euro 3 million, including but not limited to signing fees, portrait rights commission, real estate, vehicles, stocks, bonds, etc.
It is the first time to set a limit on the remuneration of foreign players, but it does not require the filing and recognition of commercial contracts signed by foreign players and any third party.
The total annual pre-tax amount (excluding bonus) of remuneration in all contracts newly signed by and between the U21 players and the club after November 20, 2019 shall not exceed RMB 300,000, including but not limited to signing fees, portrait rights commission, real estate, vehicles, stocks, bonds, etc.
If the cumulative playing time of CFA Super League and FA Cup is more than 900 minutes; if the cumulative playing time of China League and FA Cup is more than 1800 minutes; if the cumulative playing time of China League Two and FA Cup is more than 2700 minutes, the above pre-tax annual remuneration limit of U21 player’s contract is released (the playing time of each level of league can be converted according to the proportion: 1:2:3).
A lower remuneration limit is set for U21 players, which is linked to the playing time, to motivate the positive performance of young players and encourage them to play in overseas leagues.
With the “arms race” of all teams in recent years, the high remuneration of players has actually become a huge burden on the operation of the club. As reported, the cost of a big team in southern area in 2018 reached RMB 2.43 billion, with a net loss of RMB 1.8 billion, of which the super high remuneration of players is the biggest reason. And since the amount of remuneration is far higher than the market average level, the motivation of domestic players to play in overseas leagues is insufficient. The remuneration limit is conducive to the reduction of operating costs and stable development of the club, and will objectively promote more players (especially young players) to play in overseas leagues. However, in respect of the implementation of the existing policies, there are still certain issues to be clarified or discussed:
The remuneration limit of the players selected into the national team can be increased to RMB 12 million, but it is not clear when to determine “the players selected into the national team”:
Is the enrollment list of the last competition before signing the work contract taken as the determining time point for the execution of the work contract?
If, when signing the work contract, the player is not “the player selected for the national team”, but he/she enters the national team enrollment list during the performance of the contract, does the contract need to be changed to adjust the remuneration? Can the adjusted remuneration be applied back to the time of signing the work contract so as to make up the difference?
If, when signing the work contract, the player is “the player selected for the national team” but has never been included in the national team enrollment list during the performance of the contract, can the higher remuneration limit be always applied during the term of the contract?
As for the recognition of the commercial contracts with the third party, it is for the good purpose of preventing the disguised breach of the remuneration limit, but the actual implementation may not be such easy:
Generally one contract will include confidentiality clauses. The company or brand that cooperates with the player may also require confidentiality of the contract content for commercial interests. How can the conflict between such confidentiality obligations and filing requirements be solved? If the company or brand refuses to accept the filing of the contract, will it affect the normal rights and interests of the players?
This article requires that “the players or clubs need to provide documents to prove that there is no relationship between the commercial contract and the club or the company they represent”. Such wording seems incorrect. It is not necessary to prove that there is no relationship between the commercial contract and the company they represent, but to prove that there is no relationship between the club and the company they represent”. It’s not easy to prove “no relationship”. What kind of documents shall the players or clubs provide? Can it be deemed that “there is no relationship” if there is no equity relationship between the club and such company? Are there any other criteria for “relationship”?
Whether the commercial contract cost is reasonable or not will be determined by a special committee established by the CFA or the authorized organization of the CFA. What are the criteria for determining “reasonableness”? If there is no relationship between the club and the company and there is substantial service content under the commercial contract, can it be determined that “the commercial contract cost is reasonable “?
As all the naturalized players are registered as domestic players\, theoretically, the remuneration limit of domestic players shall be applied to the naturalized players. However, the reason why the naturalized players choose to change their nationality is that they have the opportunity to participate in the international competition at the national team level, and the high remuneration return is also an important factor that cannot be avoided. If the remuneration limit of domestic players is implemented for the naturalized players, will the contractual arrangement of naturalized players be affected?
Although the remuneration limit of foreign players is set, it does not require the filing and recognition of the commercial contract signed by and between foreign players and any third party. Does it mean that the remuneration limit of foreign players can be broken through in disguise by signing the commercial contract with a third party?
The U21 player’s remuneration limit is linked to the time of appearance. Similarly to the questions listed in the item 1 above, if there is a mechanism to adjust the remuneration based on the time of appearance, can the adjusted remuneration be applied back to the signing of the work contract so as to make up the difference? Can the adjusted remuneration be applied at all times throughout the contract term?
- Policy on Enrollment
The policy on enrollment for each level of league in the Season 2020 will be as follow:
Number of Initial Enrollment (including foreign players and U21 players)
U21 Players under Right of First Signing
Annual Total Number of Enrollment
Maximum number of registration: 6; maximum number in the enrollment list: 5; maximum number in the enrollment list for each game: 5; maximum number of appearance in each game: 4; total number of registration in the whole year: 7
Maximum number of registration: 4; maximum number in the enrollment list: 3; maximum number in the enrollment list for each game: 3; maximum number of appearance in each game: 2; total number of registration in the whole year: 4
Compared with the previous policy, the number of appearance in each game of the CFA Super League has increased. The remuneration limit for foreign players may affect the willingness of high-level foreign players to play in the Chinese leagues, so it may be deemed as a remedial measure to increase the league’s enjoyment.
In addition, it shall be noted in the enrollment policy that the CFA Super League club and the China League club must include a certain number of U21 players under the Right of First Signing. According to the Implementation Opinions of CFA on Adjusting the Management System of Transfer and Training Compensation Standard for Young Players and its amendment in 2019, if the training organization has registered and filed one amateur player in accordance with the Regulations of China Football Association on Registration Management, the training organization is the current registered training organization for such amateur player, and such amateur player has been continuously registered and represented such training organization to play in the official competition organized by the CFA for more than four years (inclusive), and if the training organization can sign a work contract with such player and provide the player with a salary not less than three times the social average salary of the previous year in the area (city) where the training organization is located, such training organization has the right to sign with such amateur player a work contract with the term of no longer than three years (inclusive). The aforesaid right to sign the work contract is the “Right of First Signing”. This requirement means that there shall be at least 3 and 2 self-trained youth players in the enrollment list of the CFA Super League club and the China League club, which will push all clubs to pay more attention to youth player training from the policy level.
- Policy on Player Transfer
As for the transfer of players, the following terms are included in the 2020 League Policies:
The adjustment fee threshold for transfer of domestic players and foreign players keeps unchanged (RMB 45 million for each foreign player and RMB 20 million yuan for each domestic player). The adjustment fee will be charged based on the difference amount exceeding the threshold instead of the full transfer fee.
Only 5 players without age limit can be transferred to one club in one season and there is no number limit of transfer of U21 players.
俱乐部转出球员再次转回该俱乐部时，以下三种球员不占用5人转会名额：(1) 转会到国际足联其他会员协会注册俱乐部的球员；(2) 本俱乐部 U21 转出球员；(3) 本俱乐部拥有过首签权的球员。
When one player who transferred out of a club will transfer back to such club, the following three types of players do not fall into the transfer quota: (1) the players who transferred to the club in other FIFA member associations; (2) the U21 players who transferred out of such club; (3) the players with whom the club has the Right of First Signing.
The above policy reduces the transfer cost of the club and further increases the transfer liquidity of youth players. In addition, under the preferential policy of opening transfer quota, it will encourage more clubs to allow the transfer of players to other overseas leagues.
- Policy on Youth Player Development
From the above four policies, it can be seen that promoting clubs to pay more attention to youth training and increasing the competition opportunities of youth players is one of the important purposes of the 2020 League Policies. In addition to the above-mentioned policies, there are also the following measures to promote the development of youth players in the 2020 League Policies:
In the Seasn 2020, each CFA Super League, China League and China League Two club can enroll 1-2 U21 players who sign professional contracts with the club but are not in the league enrollment list in the list of 18 players for each game.
For the CFA Super League and China League, at least one U23 player must be kept by each club on the court in each game;
For the China League Two, at least one U21 player must be kept by each club on the court in each game;
(3) 中超、中甲俱乐部一线队报名球员中，入选国家队、U23 国家队名单的 U23 球员，在球员集训和比赛期间，球员所属俱乐部可享受 U23 减免政策。
If any U23 player of the first team of any CFA Super League or China League club is selected into the list of the national team or U23 national team, such club can enjoy the U23 exemption policy during the period of training and competition of such player in the national team or U23 national team.
成立赛会制的中超、中甲、中乙 U23 联赛。中超、中乙俱乐部自愿报名参加，中甲俱乐部必须参加。U23 联赛参赛球队，每场比赛 23 岁及以上球员最多上场 3 人，出场的 23 岁以上球员必须在一线队报名。U23 联赛参赛球队，每队允许报名最多 5 名 17 岁-19 岁球员。符合年龄及出场要求的一线队球员可随时参加U23 联赛。
To set up the U23 league under the tournament system among the CFA Super League, China League and China League Two clubs. The CFA Super League and China League Two clubs may attend the tournament voluntarily and the Chinese League club must attend. For the U23 league teams, no more than 3 players aged 23 and above are allowed to play in each game and those players aged 23 and above must be enrolled in the first team. Each U23 league team is allowed to enroll up to 5 players aged 17-19. First team players who meet the age and appearance requirements can attend the U23 league at any time.
Generally speaking, the 2020 League Policies are expected to play an active role in controlling the club’s operating costs, ensuring the fairness of the leagues and increasing the competition opportunities of youth players. However, there are still certain issues to be solved and clarified during its implementation. The CFA mentioned in the 2020 League Policies that “CFA will work with relevant departments, professional institutions, foreign experts and club representatives to formulate follow-up regulatory measures and implementation rules, which will be issued before the start of the season”. On January 9, The CFA held a policy seminar and round table forum on professional leagues in Shanghai, where the experts further interpreted the 2020 League Policies, discussed and improved various league rules and regulatory measures, and obtained the opinions of the CFA Super League and China League clubs. We look forward to seeing more complete regulatory measures and implementation rules before the start of the season to help the development of the professional leagues in the new season.