Five of the best players in the Chinese Super League

Marek Hamsik
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Marek Hamsik becomes the latest high profile name to move to China

Football has changed drastically over the space of the last 20 years, with the game richer and more lucrative than ever. Top players always been paid handsomely but the financial rewards on offer now are absolutely outrageous. Europe is seen as the main powerhouse of the game when it comes to club football, with sides in the Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany) and Ligue 1 (France) in a position to offer players massive contracts which puts them at a huge advantage. But over the last few years they've been in competition with Asia, due to the soaring popularity of the Chinese Super League.

The demand for football in China is absolutely massive with the Premier League the most prominent by some distance, but the success and money behind the CSL has really been turning heads. Chinese clubs have been able to tempt some of the games biggest names and talents across to Asia and it's a trend that isn't going to slow down anytime soon if recent dealings are anything to go by.

On Thursday Napoli legend Marek Hamsik became the latest player to make the move to the CSL, ending his 12 year stay at the Stadio San Paolo where he became the clubs all-time record appearance holder and goalscorer. The next step in his career sees him arrive at Dalian Yifrang where he joins former Atletico Madrid duo Nico Gaitan and Yannick Carrasco - again highlighting the strength of the division. There's some top players plying their trade over in China at the moment and below we've selected 5 of the best - think they could cut it at a top European club? Get involved @FootyAccums!

Hulk - Shanghai SIPG

One of the highest profile players out in China and definitely one of the most successful, the big money signing of Hulk from Zenit St. Petersburg was a huge statement of intent from Shanghai SIPG. It's reported that they shelled out a mega £45m to sign him from the Russian outfit, paying him a jaw dropping weekly wage which is thought to be well over the £300k mark.

Hulk
Hulk's move to Shanghai SIPG really made people take notice of the power of the Chinese Super League

Since arriving three years ago he's notched an impressive 52 goals in 87 appearances, which is as good a strike rate as you'll see in the CSL. Now at the age of 32, a move back to a top European club is looking increasingly unlikely (mainly due to finances) but his performances in Asia have proven that he still has an awful lot to offer over there. But one option that could be appeal to him would be a return to Porto where he really made a name for himself between 2008-13 before moving onto Zenit, but he would need to take a substantial wage hit in order for it to go through.

Yannick Carrasco - Dalian Yifrang

Next up is another big name and someone who has the ability to be playing for an elite European club. Yannick Carrasco's move to Dalian Yifrang 12 months ago stunned pretty much everyone, with the Belgium international choosing to leave Atletico Madrid after a 3 year spell in the Spanish capital. He was something of a fans favourite during his time at Atletico, playing an important role in their run to the 2016 Champions League Final where they were beaten by rivals Real despite him getting on the scoresheet.

Yannick Carrasco
Yannick Carrasco's decision to swap La Liga for the CSL came as a big shock to everyone

Equally comfortable on either flank, Carrasco's pace and trickery makes him a nightmare for any defender and at the age of 25 years-old he still has so much to offer. Joining Dalian Yifrang was something of a gamble despite all the obvious financial incentives, something which was evident on his debut when they were battered 8-0. There has been rumours that he's ready for a move back to Europe and it's a testament to his talent that he's been linked with clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich - so watch this space.

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Cedric Bakambu - Beijing Guoan

Another player who made a surprise move comes in next, with Cedric Bakambu's big money transfer from Villarreal to Beijing Guoan last February one of the biggest to date. They paid the La Liga outfit a massive £35.4m to secure the Congolese forwards services, one of the highest fees of all-time for an African player - but so far he's been a tremendous success. The powerful striker has netted 19 goals in just 23 appearances, making him one of the CSL's deadliest forwards - which isn't no surprise after seeing the success he enjoyed in Spain.

Cedric Bakambu Villarreal
Bakambu's been one of the most successful Chinese Super League imports

At the age of 27, Bakambu is approaching the peak years of his career and many see it as a waste of his talents that he's currently out in China as opposed to Europe or the Champions League. His efforts helped inspire Beijing Guoan to a decent fourth placed finish last season and if they fail to win any silverware in the coming months, he may be swayed into departing. He'd be an excellent addition for any top club in Europe so it'll be interesting to see if anyone tries to persuade him into leaving in the near future.

Paulinho - Guangzhou Evergrande

Next up is someone who really splits opinion amongst football fans, but he's made himself a pretty good career, Paulinho. The Brazilian is known for his massively underwhelming spell at Tottenham (2013-15) after arriving for a club record fee before being shipped out to China. Many see the Chinese Super League as a division where players go to retire or earn a big wage, but Paulinho managed to buck that trend and actually enhance his reputation - earning a surprise £40m transfer to Barcelona.

Paulinho
Paulinho is a completely different player to the one that flopped at Tottenham

His time at the Camp Nou may have only lasted a season but he a made a massive impact, scoring 9 La Liga goals from midfield which is a solid return. His performances for Barca bizarrely led to Guangzhou re-purchasing him for £45m which shows just how highly rated he is over there. It may not have worked out in England but Paulinho's stock has certainly risen since departing Tottenham and he's without a doubt one of the best players in the CSL.

Oscar - Shanghai SIPG

A teammate of Hulk and the current Asian transfer record holder, Oscar is our final pick. The former Chelsea man stunned everyone in swapping London for Shanghai back in 2016 but what made it even more surprising was the transfer fee involved, with the Blues earning a reported £60m from the deal - resulting in a massive £35m profit. Oscar may have fallen out of favour at Chelsea but he was still a big player and was getting plenty of caps for the Brazilian national team - so to get him in at Shanghai SIPG was something of a coup.

Hulk Oscar Shanghai SIPG
Shanghai SIPG's Brazilian connection played a major part in their maiden Chinese Super League title

But in order to get their man Shanghai had to shell out an outrageous transfer fee and so far you'd argue it's been a successful move. Oscar's performances played a major role in them winning their first ever Chinese Super League title last season after finishing runners-up on two occasions - so they'll be hoping that they can carry that momentum through into next term. But for Oscar at the age of 27 and having won the title, he will be looking at bigger things. He hasn't featured for the Brazilian national team since 2015 and he will be desperate to get back into the picture, which would probably mean moving back to Europe.

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