Heart Of Football

Money-fuelled Chinese Super League wins an Oscar and a Tevez

Even by the standards of modern football, these are helter-skelter days for Carlos Tevez and Oscar.

They could, if they so wished, still be English Premier League players, giving up Christmas to play three games over the coming week. Instead, they are packing their bags to join the Chinese Super League gravy train.

They are heading for China's financial capital Shanghai, but to separate clubs once they get there.

Oscar, close to the peak of his career at 25, is leaving Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG for a transfer sum of £52 million (S$92.5 million) and a reported salary worth more than S$700,000 - per week.

Manager Antonio Conte says he regrets losing a fine young player. However, given that the Italian seemed to build his team around others, leaving Oscar kicking his heels on the bench, the Brazilian might argue that he is going where he is made to feel welcome.

Seven hundred thousand times so.

Tevez is close to his 33rd birthday, so not quite in the bloom of his career. In any case, we know Tevez by now.

Argentinian football star Carlos Tevez and his teenage sweetheart Vanesa Mansilla after being pronounced man and wife in San Isidro, Buenos Aires, on Thursday. Soon, the already wealthy family will head East on their Chinese adventure, as will Brazilian Oscar. The Chinese Super League is attracting younger and bigger names - be it coaches or players. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He is the ultimate have-boots will-travel football nomad. And, again according to reports, Shanghai Shenhua gave the Argentinian and those who own his playing rights a cool one million reasons to join the Yangtze River migration.

A million-dollar salary? Per week, of course.

Few should deny that China, unlike the Major League Soccer in the United States, is nobody's retirement yard... Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho are among the English club managers who acknowledge that the money being offered with the blessing of President Xi Jinping makes China a different case. Rob Hughes

Caritos Tevez, so-called because he packs or packed such energy into his 1.73m frame, will doubtless give every gram of what he has left after a journey that spans (so far) Boca Juniors, Corinthians, West Ham, Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and back home to Boca.

He has had so many brief hellos arranged by the agency Media Sports Investment that represents the third-party ownership of players that Fifa and the players' unions have been helpless to stop.

It was once thought Tevez, rather than Lionel Messi, was the natural heir to Diego Maradona's mantle, given that Tevez like Maradona came up through a rough, tough Buenos Aires neighbourhood, and fought his way out through tenacity and brilliance laced with ruthless mentality.

Maybe Tevez moved on too many times, a butterfly of no fixed abode - to win all that he should have. Maybe there's still time to be a hero, in Shanghai. Or maybe he has just had the week of his lifetime. Boca was his boyhood team, and having gone full circle and travelled the rich world, he retreated there after helping Juventus to the Champions League final.

After his final game in Boca's La Bombonera stadium last Sunday, a fan leapt over the fence and ran onto the pitch to go down on his knees and implore him to stay.

The deal was done. On Thursday, another deed was cast when Carlos and Vanessa, his sweetheart since they were 13 and living in the Fuerte Apache suburb, tied the knot. Mrs Tevez's bridesmaids were the couple's two daughters Florencia and Katie.

And the reception for 260 guests is said to have lasted four days.

Next stop, Shanghai where he joins the Uruguayan manager Gus Poyet and former English Premier League players Demba Ba and Obafemi Martins.

The teeming city on China's east coast evidently has an attraction to ex-Chelsea personnel. Poyet, of course, once belonged to the King's Road club. So did Ba.

And so did SIPG manager Andre Villas-Boas, the assistant and - for a short time - successor to Jose Mourinho in 2011-12. AVB is now one of the much-travelled coaches helping Chinese clubs to spend what it takes to lure big names to the burgeoning Super League.

They include Luis Felipe Scolari (another former Chelsea manager), Manuel Pellegrini (ex-Man City) and Felix Magath (ex-Fulham). Their purpose is to identify and attract the type of players such as Hulk (a team-mate awaiting Oscar's arrival in Shanghai) and more Brazilians like Ramires (former Chelsea) and Alex Teixeira (who gave Liverpool a miss to travel to China).

No one denies that money is the lure. And few should deny that China, unlike the Major League Soccer in the United States, is nobody's retirement yard.

America has a long history of tempting greats ever since Pele and Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberto lent their name and their fame to the launch of the New York Cosmos in the early 1970s.

Many have followed, but few in their prime.

China is a different proposition. Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte and Jose Mourinho are among the English club managers who acknowledge that the money being offered with the blessing of President Xi Jinping makes China a different case.

The Portuguese went there with his agent to look for himself when he was in between jobs this year.

"China's money is attractive for everyone," he said last week. "But I love more my football at the highest level. I'm too young at 53, and have too many years of football to go to a place like China."

Oscar, half his age and bruised from the way that Mourinho managed him at Chelsea, evidently has another vision of what China has to offer.

Young enough to have been called a baby Kaka, old enough to have won the league with Chelsea, and classy enough to have scored some fabulous goals in London, he departs with sweet sorrow.

Chelsea issued a statement on Friday thanking him for his 202 games and 38 goals. "We thank Oscar for his wonderful service," it read. "and wish him the very best of luck for the future."

Chelsea has reason to be pleased. They paid £19.35 million for the Brazilian in 2012, and sell him for not far short of three times that.

Oscar, with a boyish face but a determined heart, watched five managers make their exits during his 41/2 seasons at Chelsea.

Roberto di Matteo and Guus Hiddink thought the sun shone out of Oscar. Rafael Benitez and Conte seemed to doubt him. Mourinho made him a champion and a whipping boy.

China might seem like a haven in the Orient to a Brazilian whose wife is of Japanese origin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 25, 2016, with the headline 'Money-fuelled Chinese Super League wins an Oscar and a Tevez'. Print Edition | Subscribe