Chinese club football has grown stratospherically in terms of stature recently, attracting big name players from European clubs with offers of high wages. Last month alone, Chelsea playmaker Oscar swapped London for the Far East in a massive £60 million transfer to Shanghai SIPG, and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, who was inches away from joining Italian giants Juventus last summer, joined manager Fabio Cannavaro at Tianjin Quanjian. So it was about time that a Manchester United player is linked with a move to the Chinese Super League.
As reported by the Daily Mail, Ashley Young is a transfer target for Shandong Luneng, who are aiming to make a £10 million move for the winger. Young has been linked with a move away from United since the January window, and the Chinese club has apparently been working on a deal since the start of the deal. And with the Chinese transfer window still open until the end of this month, there is still time for the move to happen.
Young has spent much of the season as a backup squad player, rarely in contention for a regular starting berth, and has played a total of just 13 matches in all competition this season. But he has performed well at right back in recent matches, and with United still involved in three cup competitions outside of the league, Jose Mourinho might not be willing to let go of Young just yet.
Should Young end up at Shandong Luneng, he will be joining former Bayern Munich and, most recently, Fulham manager Felix Magath, who joined the club in June of last year. He will also be joining two former Premier League players in Graziano Pelle and Papiss Cisse, who joined the club from Southampton and Newcastle respectively, as well as two Brazilian players, defender Gil and attacker Diego Tardelli.
And this is where the problem lies.
The Chinese Super League has a rule in place limiting the number of foreign players a club is permitted to have in their squads. Each club is allowed just five spots for foreign players, with one spot reserved for players from nations within the Asian Football Confederation, with only a maximum of three foreign players allowed on the pitch at once. Which means that, if Shandong Luneng truly wants to sign Young, they should first sell one Cisse, Pelle, Gil, and Tardelli beforehand.
And that’s not easy to do, considering the transfer windows of most of the leagues who can take them are now closed. The Russian transfer window is currently open, which is a viable option, but it closes on Friday at midnight. Only three Chinese clubs are currently capable of taking one of their hands, Beijing Guoan, Jiangsu Suning, and Tianjin Quanjian, but it is much more likely for them to pursue targets from overseas.
So for Young’s move to Shandong Luneng to materialise, United have to be willing to let go of a useful squad player without signing any replacements ahead of a busy schedule, and the buying club would need to offload one of their four biggest players, potentially to a league rival, and sort out a deal for Young, all by next Tuesday. Possible, yes, but unlikely.