BEIJING • Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande smashed China's transfer fee record yesterday when they announced a deal to secure Atletico Madrid's unsettled Colombian striker Jackson Martinez for €42 million (S$65.7 million).
Martinez, 29, is the latest Europe-based player to move to the cashed-up Chinese Super League.
"We firmly believe that the addition of international football star Jackson Martinez will strengthen our attack, providing more exciting performances for everyone," the club said in a statement.
Atletico bought Martinez last year for €35 million from Porto, where he had scored an impressive 92 goals in 133 games. He was the top scorer in Portugal for the three seasons preceding his move to Spain.
But he struggled to establish himself in Madrid, scoring just two goals in 15 La Liga appearances.
"The moment has arrived to start a new stage in my career," Martinez, who had been heavily linked with a move to English Premier League champions Chelsea, told Atletico's website.
We believe the Chinese football industry has a bright future. I feel more than honoured to participate in this project and to be able to help Chinese football to become a new world power.
JORGE MENDES, Martinez's agent, on Chinese football.
"The club and I have spoken in the last few days and we agreed this is the best thing for everyone."
The purchase broke the week-old Chinese record fee of €28 million, paid by Jiangsu Suning to acquire Brazilian midfielder Ramires from Chelsea.
It lifted the Chinese Super League's total spending during the current transfer window to €203.9 million, according to website transfermarkt, second only to the English Premier League (€295.1 million). It tracks commercial dealings in the sport.
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, the highest-profile international signings by Chinese clubs tended to be 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 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 payout."
Recent Chinese Super League signings have been Fredy Guarin 29, Ramires, 28, and Gervinho, 28.
Martinez, who inked a four-year deal, will join Brazilian internationals Paulinho, 27, and Ricardo Goulart, 24, in the Luiz Felipe Scolari-coached side.
Guangzhou won a fifth consecutive domestic crown in October. The following month, they claimed their second AFC Champions League title in three years.
On Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media service, many criticised the high cost of signing Martinez but the most popular comments were from fans who defended Evergrande's move.
"Seeing some people saying it's not worth it, I think it's overdone," wrote one user. "China football fans' demands are really high now!"
Those supporters might yet see more high-profile signings before China's transfer deadline day on Feb 26. Super-agent Jorge Mendes, who represents Martinez and took his career transfer dealings to about £1.25 billion (S$2.58 billion) with this transaction, could work out a move for another client - Chelsea striker Radamel Falcao.
The Colombian has scored just one Premier League goal this season after being limited to just nine appearances. The struggling 29-year-old had hoped to move back to former club Atletico or return to Spain with Valencia, but those moves did not materialise before European football's transfer window closed on Monday.
Mendes has brokered deals for the likes of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and has already extended his influence to China.
In November, he was in Shanghai to announce a link-up between his Gestifute agency and the Fosun Group, one of China's largest business conglomerates.
"We believe the Chinese football industry has a bright future," Mendes said, standing alongside Guo Guangchang, one of the five founders of Fosun. "I feel more than honoured to participate in this project and to be able to help Chinese football to become a new world power."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON