You are Graziano Pelle, you’re an established Premier League striker, pretty hard to play against on form even if you do have fallow spells. You’ve just had a really good Euro 2016 at the apex of Antonio Conte’s Italy side that comfortably defeated reigning champions Spain, and a much fancied (at least at that point) Belgian side. What is your next move?
Well surprisingly, Pelle’s next move is to Shandong Luneng in the Chinese Super League. Reports had tipped the 31 year old to link up with Conte at Chelsea but instead he has gone east to seek the riches of China’s top division. Perhaps the opportunity to link up with Papiss Cisse, also at Luneng was too exciting to turn down, or maybe he was persuaded by reported £260,000 per week in wages that will make him the 6th highest player in the world.
Pelle is not the first to go to China and many players who have flourished in Europe has made similar moves. Didier Drogba returned fairly sharpish but the likes of Alex Teixera, Ramires and Gervinho are now plying their trade in East Asia. Pelle could have been competing for the Premier League title in 2016-17, instead he is in a league with less credibility than the MLS; does this mean that there is a growing power base in world football, or just where the money is at?
The obvious reaction would be that it is a question of ambition. Pelle has just turned 31 and at times during the summer appeared to be at the point of having mastered his craft. His is not a game built on pace, but on brutish physicality, know-how and emphatic finishing; he surely could have managed another couple of seasons at the top level. The kinder interpretation would be that these good souls know that the Premier league has all the exposure it will ever need and more, so they are seeking to use their skills and profiles to promote the game in China and leave a legacy. This would be an optimistic view, and Pelle could do well to look to his erstwhile international colleague Andrea Pirlo; left out of the squad for the Euros because he was playing for New York City FC.
The hype of the ‘best league in the world’ may be far from true, and there is an argument that English clubs have had things their way in the transfer market for too long. While it could be fair to say N’Golo Kante, who reached such combative peaks last year chose to skew Champions League football and opt for a move to Chelsea, it would surely have been an even crueller disappointment if he had left Leicester to pursue money over top-end midfield combat with the likes of Dembele, Matic, Mkhitaryan and more.
Andrew Grillo, The Sweeper Football Blog