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Year-end review: How did the U23 policy impact on the Chinese league, transfer market and players?

By Nong Ruowen Friday, 29 Dec 2017 23:09

Wei Shihao

In 2017, the U23 policy published by the Chinese Football Association (CFA) shocked both the domestic and overseas sports industry practitioners. 

In fact, the U23 policy was introduced in two phases. In February 2017, the CFA announced the original U23 policy, which required Chinese Super League (CSL) and China League One teams include four U23 players in their 27-player roster and have one U23 player in the first team squad and another U23 in their 18-player match day squad. 

However, not every U23 player is capable enough yet to play in CSL games. To many CSL clubs their match day performance was hindered by the inclusion of an inexperienced U23 player so many clubs tended to include an U23 player in their starting line-ups but quickly substituted them after the game kicked off.  

Following this bending of the rules, the CFA released an “advanced version” of the policy. From the 2018 season onwards, the accumulated appearances of Chinese domestic U23 football players (except Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan players) in each  CSL game, China League and CFA Cup, must be the same as that of the collective appearances of overseas players in each match from next season.

It is not hard to see that this new advanced version may not work in solving the aforementioned problem. However, it will have a big influence on the league. The end of 2017 is a time for reviewing how the policy has impacted on the league, the transfer market and players. 

The league

Although there are some U23 players such as Wei Shihao who have turned in some good performances, most players are not ready to make the CSL team lineups on merit. As a result, many people tend to believe that the CSL is not as exciting as before. Unfortunately, China Sports Media (CSM), the company which bought the league’s 5-year broadcasting rights for RMB 8b in 2015, might also be included in that group. 

In June 2017, the Chinese Football Association Super League Co., Ltd (CSL Company) announced the receipt of a negotiation letter from CSM which stated that it would postpone the second payment of the RMB 0.6 billion rights fee due by July 1, 2017. As the Chinese media “The Paper” reported, CSM indicated that with the new policies like the U23 policy and the adjustment fee regulations for local and foreign players, the operations and commercial value of CSL would be greatly influenced. 

Later in July, the Chinese sports journalist Xiao Liangzhi reported that the CSL Company had refused CSM’s suggestion of a contract amendment to their broadcast media rights re-negotiations. There was no further movement on this issue until December 29, when the CSM reportedly agreed to pay CSL Company the second payment of the rights fee for RMB 0.6 billion, after negotiations with the CSL Company. 

However, a new question has also emerged in the minds of sport industry practitioners mind. The CSM will have to pay the CSL Company RMB1.5bn next season. But the question is how will CSM make this payment? 

The Transfer market

Due to the limited number of Chinese U23 players who are capable of playing in the CSL, these players have become the most sought after players in the transfer market.  

In December, Guangzhou Evergrande signed three U23 players from the Chinese national football team, Deng Hanwen, Tang Shi and Yang Liyu. Although the club did not disclose the transfer fees, some insiders have guessed that it would be above 10m for each player, as reported by Beijing Youth Daily (BYD). 

The high salaries have also attracted many young players who have been trained in overseas football clubs, to come back to China. BYD also reported that most elite players born between 1995 and 1996 have returned to China and received a much higher salary than before. 

Among all of the CSL clubs, Shandong Luneng could be the who do not have to worry about this policy. This club has always been famous for its excellent development in youth training. According to some media reports, Shandong Luneng have received a lot of transfer and loan inquiries about their young players after the announcement of the U23 policy. 


Under this policy, the age of these players might become a watershed for their careers in the CSL.

Just as what we have discussed previously, those aged under 23 have embraced a lot of opportunities overnight, but it has been different for those players over 23. Since the policy was launched in 2017, Du Mingyang, born in 1994 and an emerging football star for Beijing Guoan, has suddenly lost his position in the team. 

But those players who are enjoying the “privilege” of the policy are also worried about their future. Wei Shihao, the Shanghai SIPG player born in 1995, expressed his worries to Beijing News. It seems that he may have more opportunities next season, but it still remains unknown what will happen in the 2019 season, when he would be 24. In his opinion, it means that he has only one year to confirm a stable position in his team. 


Along with the numerous doubts and even criticisms, the new U23 policy is set to make its debut next season. It is not easy to predict whether this U23 policy can fulfill its original aim of enhancing youth talent development. But at least it may play a significant part in changing a player’s destiny and develop Team China’s World Cup hopes.

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick



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