Benitez latest marquee name to leave Chinese Super League
Published: Jan 25, 2021 05:29 PM

Rafa Benitez Photo: VCG

Spanish football coach Rafa Benitez became the latest marquee name to leave the Chinese Super League (CSL), as the famed coach has parted with Dalian Pro, leaving some arguing that the Chinese top flight is no longer attractive to foreigners.

His departure is being seen as a huge blow to the ambitious Dalian team, as fans expressed their gratitude for the coach who "laid the foundation of Dalian football's future" for his efforts in cultivating the club's younger players such as Tong Lei and Lin Liangming.

With the Chinese Football Association (CFA) introducing several policies to curb clubs' high spending, some believe that the departure of Benitez, whose annual salary at Dalian is reportedly over 13 million euros ($15.83 million), is related to a decrease in salary.

But his case is most likely more related to the coronavirus pandemic, as the Spaniard, along with his coaching staff, had to be separated from his family for a long time after the league's virus-delayed season finally kicked off behind closed doors.

Once the league was labeled using huge salaries to attract foreign talent, as the CFA has implemented several policies to limit club spending, including salary caps and team name changes to remove sponsors' names from clubs. 

Starting in 2021, total annual expenditure for a CSL club cannot exceed 600 million yuan ($92.65 million), with domestic players' salaries capped at 5 million yuan, and the whole team's average salary ceiling at 3 million. 

These moves have led several big names in the CSL - including former Brazil international Hulk and Italian international Stephan el Shaarawy, who are believed pace-setters in offense - to part with the Chinese top flight. 

Even CFA President Chen Xuyuan admitted these policies could impact the enjoyment of the CSL, but he insisted that a healthier financial budget for the high-roller clubs will ultimately benefit the top flight over the long run.

In December 2020, the People's Daily cited a report saying that CSL teams averaged 1.12 billion yuan in spending in 2018, with annual income at only 686 million yuan - a deficit far larger than the leagues of China's neighbors South Korea and Japan. 

One thing we have to admit is that the pace of the CSL still needs improvement as even the CSL giants in the Asian Champions League often struggle. 

The Chinese national team are also finding it difficult to score goals as top-flight CSL clubs rely heavily on foreign power in offense, leaving domestic players limited game time to hone their skills. Though foreign stars have left the league, there are a handful of Chinese young players who can step into the shoes of teams' offense. Hopefully they can take this opportunity to show what they are capable of.