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The Chinese Revolution: former Premier League players currently in China

The final day of February also marked the end of China’s transfer window. What better way to celebrate this momentous occasion than to look at all of the former Premier League players currently playing in the Chinese Super League?

Current CSL rules state that a club may register only six foreign players over the course of a season and may only register four at any one time. In addition to this, only three can feature in any match. All but one of the players in this list are considered foreign players.

There are 15 players who were once on the books of a Premier League club who are now on the payroll of CSL clubs, 14 of whom managed to make an appearance in the English top flight.

These players range from world beaters to names you’ve probably never heard of. How many can you remember?

Sone Aluko

Premier League: Hull City 2013-15 (42 appearances)

Current Club: Beijing Renhe (on loan from Reading)

Tipped for big things after bursting onto the scene in Scotland a decade ago, Sone Aluko never hit the heights expected of him.

You could be forgiven for not noticing that he hopped over to the Far East, the Nigeria international sealing a loan move to Beijing Renhe from Championship side Reading on 26th February 2019.

Despite having a trial with Juventus in 2011, Beijing will be his first taste of competitive club football outside the UK. 42 league appearances in Hull City’s two-year stint in the Premier League between 2013 and 2015 are the 30-year-old’s only English top-flight experience.

Nico Yennaris

Premier League: Arsenal 2011-14 (1 appearance)

Current Club: Beijing Sinobo Guoan

Almost certainly the strangest transfer of the January window was former Arsenal defender/midfielder Nico Yennaris’ move to China.

Former England youth player Yennaris swapped Brentford for Beijing Guoan, registering as a Chinese citizen by virtue of his mother’s nationality and swerving the CSL’s foreign player regulations in the process.

The 25-year-old made just one Premier League appearance in his three years as a professional footballer at the Emirates, and only true Gunners fans can be expected to remember him.


Premier League: Tottenham Hotspur 2013-15 (45 appearances)

Current Club: Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho has enjoyed a rollercoaster of a career to say the least. The 30-year-old has appeared at the last two World Cups for Brazil, flopped at Tottenham, moved to China, been signed for  €40 million by Barcelona and moved back to China for €42 million, all in the last six years.

Over a thirteen-year career, Paulinho has won league titles in Brazil, China and Spain, quite the collection. Spurs fans won’t remember him too fondly after failing to fill the gap left by Gareth Bale in 2013, but the Brazilian remains loved in China nonetheless.

Tyias Browning

Premier League: 2012-19 (7 Appearances)

Current Club: Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao

Among the lesser known names on this list, 24-year-old defender Browning is the only Englishman (due to Nico Yennaris’ switch to Chinese citizenship) in the CSL for the 2019 season. He is also only the second ever Englishman to play there (huge props to anyone who remembers Akpo Sodje!).

Browning joins Paulinho as Guangzhou aim to win the CSL in 2019 having missed out on the title in 2018 for the first time in eight years.

Moussa Dembele

Premier League: Fulham 2010-12 (62 appearances), Tottenham Hotspur 2012-19 (180 appearances)

Current Club: Guangzhou R&F

Another player to move to China in 2019, Belgian midfielder Dembele joined Guangzhou R&F after nine years in England with Fulham and Spurs.

Dembele played 242 times in the Premier League and 80 times for the Belgian national team in a stellar career.

Now 31, Dembele was expected to seal a move to Beijing Guoan in January 2019 but the deal fell through. However, days later Guangzhou R&F swooped in to acquire the midfielder’s services for a fee of £11 million.

Dusko Tosic

Premier League: Portsmouth 2010 (0 appearances)

Current Club: Guangzhou R&F

Not much to say about this one.

Defender Tosic signed for Portsmouth in 2010 at the height of their financial troubles, but the Premier League refused to allow Pompey to register him.

He appeared in a matchday squad in one cup game but never played a minute, eventually moving on loan to QPR of the Championship while Portsmouth imploded.

A Serbia international, Tosic was signed by Guangzhou R&F a month before the start of the World Cup 2018, where he played twice as Serbia exited at the Group Stage.

Javier Mascherano

Premier League: West Ham United 2006-07 (5 appearances), Liverpool 2007-10 (94 appearances)

Current Club: Hebei China Fortune

Arguably the first world beater on this list, 34-year-old Javier Mascherano moved to China in January 2018 after seven and a half years at Barcelona.

Mascherano came to England in 2006 when he and Carlos Tevez joined West Ham from Corinthians in a deal mired by complications due to a third-party owner.

Despite making only five league appearances for the Hammers, he was snapped up by Liverpool in January 2007.

A two-time Champions League winner with Barcelona, Mascherano also won 147 caps for Argentina, reaching the final of the 2014 World Cup and four Copa America Finals, losing all five.


Premier League: Chelsea 2010-16 (160 appearances)

Current Club: Jiangsu Suning

Hugely popular at Chelsea, “Rambo” spent six years at Stamford Bridge, winning almost everything available.

His performance and goal in the Champions’ League semi-final second leg against Barcelona in 2012 is among the most important moments in the history of the club, Chelsea going on to win the final without the suspended Ramires weeks later.

Since moving to Nanjing; home of Jiangsu Suning, in 2016, the 31-year-old midfielder has become a fan favourite once again.

Gabriel Paletta

Premier League: Liverpool 2006-07 (3 appearances)

Current Club: Jiangsu Suning

If you aren’t a Liverpool fan but you remember Gabriel Paletta playing in England, take a bow.

Signed from Argentinian side Banfield in 2006, it was hoped that Paletta could be a long-term solution to an ageing defence.

He was not the solution, playing just three Premier League games before moving back to Argentina at the end of the season.

He went on to have a successful career in Italy with Parma, AC Milan and Atalanta, before moving to Jiangsu Suning in February 2018.

Marouane Fellaini

Premier League: Everton 2008-13 (141 appearances), Manchester United 2013-19 (119 appearances)

Current Club: Shandong Luneng Taishan

Cult hero Marouane Fellaini ended a 10-and-a-half-year spell in England in February 2019, joining Shandong Luneng.

The big Belgian enjoyed five fruitful years with Everton before accompanying David Moyes to Manchester United, where things did not go so smoothly.

Often a scapegoat for managerial failings, Fellaini won four trophies with the Red Devils, in addition to a third-place medal for Belgium at the World Cup 2018.

Now 31, he enjoyed a dream start to life in China, netting the winner on his debut in a 1-0 victory over Beijing Renhe on the first day of the 2019 CSL.

Graziano Pelle

Premier League: Southampton 2014-16 (68 appearances)

Current Club: Shandong Luneng Taishan

Here’s a strange one. After years as a journeyman in Italy and Holland, Graziano Pelle’s career came to life in 2012 while with Feyenoord.

He moved to Southampton in 2014 and continued to impress, bagging 23 goals over two seasons. This form took him to Euro 2016 with Italy, where the Azzuri lost in the quarter-finals to Germany on penalties. Pelle missed his spot-kick.

His career was at an all-time high, but he disappeared. Having moved to Shandong after the Euros, Pelle played only three more games for Italy.

Though he was 30 at the time of his move to China, his move seemed rather abrupt. He continues to find the net for Shandong, but under far less of a spotlight than he was under in Europe.

Odion Ighalo

Premier League: Watford 2015-17 (55 appearances)

Current Club: Shanghai Greenland Shenhua

Remember him? Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo formed a formidable partnership with Troy Deeney in Watford’s frontline in 2015/16.

He moved to Changchun Yatai for a reported fee of £20 million in January 2017, where he remained until February 2019 following their relegation.

He sealed a move to Shanghai Shenhua where he becomes the latest in a long list of former Premier League strikers including Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Demba Ba and Obafemi Martins.


Premier League: Chelsea 2012-17 (131 appearances)

Current Club: Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG)

Perhaps the best example of a player leaving the Premier League for China at the height of their career is Brazilian midfielder Oscar.

The baby-faced playmaker was a key component of Jose Mourinho’s title winning side of 2014/15, but swapped London for Shanghai just two years later at the age of 25.

The reported fee of £60 million remains an Asian record, and his form in his two seasons at SIPG have gone some way to justifying his price tag.

He played a pivotal role as SIPG won their first ever CSL title in 2018, his 19 assists six more than any other player in the League.

Now 27 and no longer involved in the Brazilian national set up, few football fans are able to watch him play week in week out. That such a fine player is no longer pitting himself against the best players in the world is a minor travesty.

Alexandre Pato

Premier League: Chelsea 2016 (2 appearances)

Current Club: Tianjin Tianhai

When you think of players who failed to achieve their potential, this man is among the names at the very top of the list.

Tipped for the top after breaking through at AC Milan at just 18-years of age, he stagnated, moving back to Brazil in 2013.

After a return to form, Chelsea swooped in and sealed a loan move in 2016. Pato would only make two appearances in the Premier League and was not signed permanently.

Still just 29, he now plays for Tianjin Tianhai, where the goals have returned to his game.

Stephane Mbia

Premier League: Queens Park Rangers 2012-13 (29 appearances)

Current Club: Wuhan Zall

Not a popular man at Loftus Road, Stephane Mbia’s time in England is best remembered for a red card against Arsenal and for a tweet to Joey Barton.

After performing poorly as the Rs were relegated from the Premier League, Mbia asked Barton (then on loan at Marseille) if he wanted to switch seats.

Unsurprisingly, he never played for QPR again. He moved to Sevilla and then on to China with Hebei China Fortune. A poor loan spell at Toulouse followed last year, before he joined newly promoted side Wuhan Zall ahead of the 2019 season.

Sam Hanys

Ipswich Town fan and Loughborough University student.

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Premier League Table

# Team MP W D L P
1 Liverpool 5 5 0 0 15
2 Manchester City 5 3 1 1 10
3 Tottenham Hotspur 5 2 2 1 8
4 Manchester United 5 2 2 1 8
5 Leicester City 5 2 2 1 8
6 Chelsea 5 2 2 1 8
7 Arsenal 5 2 2 1 8
8 West Ham United 5 2 2 1 8
9 AFC Bournemouth 5 2 1 2 7
10 Southampton 5 2 1 2 7
11 Everton 5 2 1 2 7
12 Crystal Palace 5 2 1 2 7
13 Norwich City 5 2 0 3 6
14 Burnley 5 1 2 2 5
15 Sheffield United 5 1 2 2 5
16 Brighton & Hov… 5 1 2 2 5
17 Aston Villa 5 1 1 3 4
18 Newcastle United 5 1 1 3 4
19 Wolverhampton Wanderers 5 0 3 2 3
20 Watford 5 0 2 3 2

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