Chinese Super League

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) Super League, or simply the Chinese Super League (CSL), is the youngest major national football league competition globally. It is China's highest level of professional football competition. The league was created following a rebranding of the country's former top division Chinese Football Association Jia-A League.

Goal in the CSL
CSL was initially contested by 12 teams at inception. However, the number has ballooned to 16 teams (as of the 2020 season.) Since its creation, 32 different teams have taken part, with eight winning the title. Guangzhou has the record of the most wins (eight), followed by Taishan with three. The other teams that have lifted the league title are Changchun Yatai, Shenzhen, Dalian Shide, Beijing Guoan, Shanghai Port, and Jiangsu.

The league's popularity has snowballed, and it now is an average attendance of slightly more than 24,000. This figure represents the 12th-highest attended domestic professional sports league and the sixth-highest football federation league globally.

Prominent Teams

The league's popular teams are Liaoning FC, Shandong Luneng Taishan, Shanghai East, Shanghai SIPG, and Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao.

CSL Season Schedule

CSL's season kicks off in February or March and runs through November or December. Each team plays its opponents both home and away (30 games a club and 240 games for the entire season).

A team's position in the league is determined by the points it accumulates during the season. If two teams tie at the top, the winner is determined by the points gained in the matches between the said teams or the highest goal difference or number of goals scored between the two teams.

Other factors such as the points accumulated by the teams' reserves in the reserve league or the teams' U19 in their respective leagues may be used to break the tie.

The top three teams qualify to participate in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League. Because China has four slots in the competition, the fourth team usually is the titleholder of the Chinese FA Cup. If the Chinese FA Cup winner finishes among the top three, the fourth team in the league gets an automatic qualification.

CSL International Standing

When the Asian Football Federation started its Champions League competition in 2002/03, it awarded China two slots. The qualification model described above was adopted in 2009, when the confederation added Chine two more places.

Between the inaugural AFC Champions League and 2020, Chinese teams have won the title twice. Their counterparts from the Korean K-League have five wins, while teams from the Japanese J-League have three.

Despite China's evidently modest championship ambitions, the country's premier league tops the AFC Club Competition ranking based on the constituent teams' performance in continental tournaments and FIFA's national team's ranking.

Players, Salaries, and Transfers

In a bid to build a following, Chinese football teams pay their players relatively high salaries compared to other sports leagues in the country. CSL players earned $1,020,000 on average in 2017.

Hulk, Brazil
Brazilian player Hulk
The transfer fees also rose sharply, especially after 2015, when the first significant investment boost kicked in. Shanghai SIPG brought Oscar from Chelsea in December 2016 in a deal worth €60 million. The same club had paid €55.8 million to bring Hulk from Zenit Saint Petersburg just months earlier. Earlier the same year, Alex Teixeira completed a move from Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning for €50 million.

Such astronomical spending has raised eyebrows elsewhere, especially considering that CSL is not as old as other leagues. In 2017, CFA moved to stem the tide by introducing a transfer tax to limit related spending. In 2020, it imposed a salary cap for players. Teams can now pay a maximum of $95 million for all their domestic players and about $12 million for all foreign players.

Individual player salaries are now capped at $785000 while foreign players get a maximum of $3.5 million.

Foreign Player Policy

The league allows every team to have only four foreign players at any one time. Of these, the team can field only three in each game.