BEIJING: Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande have signed Atletico Madrid’s Colombian striker Jackson Martinez for 42 million euros ($46 million), the club said on Wednesday, smashing the national transfer record.
Martinez, 29, whom Evergrande called “world class” on their website, is the latest Europe-based player to head to the increasingly wealthy Chinese Super League.
Atletico bought the player from FC Porto, where he had scored an impressive 92 goals in 133 games, but he struggled to establish himself in Spain, scoring just two goals in 15 La Liga appearances.
But Evergrande used the English epithets “goal poacher” and a “fox in the box” to describe him in their Chinese-language statement announcing the deal.
The purchase broke the week-old Chinese record buy, Jiangsu Suning’s 28-million-euro purchase of Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Ramires.
It took the Chinese Super League’s total spending during the current transfer window to 203.9 million euros, according to website transfermarkt which tracks commercial dealings in the sport, second only to the English Premier League.
Chinese businesses have invested huge sums in football since President Xi Jinping, an avowed fan of the sport, declared that hosting, qualifying, and winning a World Cup were national goals.
In the past, Chinese clubs’ highest-profile international signings tended to be ageing stars in their 30s nearing the end of their playing days.
But many of those bought in the current transfer window have been in their late 20s.
Questions have been asked about whether some are past their prime, but David Hornby, sports business director of the Mailman brand management group in Shanghai, said: “These are not guys at the end of their career just looking for a pay-out.”
In 2015 a powerful political committee headed by Xi released a 50-point plan to put his ambition into effect, including establishing tens of thousands of soccer schools and making the game compulsory for some elementary and middle-school students.
Investors have since ploughed more money into football in “an attempt to be looked favorably on by the government,” said Tom Elsden, sports strategy manager at Mailman.
“This has stimulated the growth of football immensely. It’s really that government mandate that’s pushing it.”
Factoring in the top two levels of the sport, Chinese clubs have so far spent 252.7 million euros in the current transfer period — which runs until February 26 in China — while English clubs splashed out 295.1 million euros before the European window closed on Monday, according to transfermarkt.
The second-tier China League One ranked ahead of the Bundesliga, Spain’s Primera Division and Ligue 1 for spending.
Evergrande, the reigning Asian champions and China’s most successful club, are managed by former Brazil and Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari.
The club, mostly owned by property developer Evergrande and internet giant Alibaba, sold Brazilian striker Elkeson to domestic rivals Shanghai SIPG last month.
But Martinez will join Brazilian international Paulinho in a squad who won a fifth consecutive domestic crown in October.
The following month they claimed their second AFC Champions League title in three years.