This information has come to light due to the recent spate of high-profile players moving to China for enormous paydays. None of them has been a goalkeeper, and after a glance at the rules it’s clear that Chinese clubs are forbidden from having non-Chinese custodians.
WHY IS THIS BAN IN EFFECT?
For one simple reason: player development. Given the option to bring in foreign talent, goalkeeper is always a likely option due to the importance of the role in matches and the high concentration of quality keepers in Europe.
The environment to develop as a goalkeeper is at its best in Europe, so the quality is there. But there can be just one goalie per team, so if foreign stoppers come in then the Chinese goalkeepers won’t get any time to develop. This will lead to a drastic drop in level, and that will enormously effect the Chinese national team and their chances of success.
WHEN DID IT START?
The Chinese top division has always had restriction on foreign players. From its inception in 1994 to 2000 it was a maximum of three foreign players. In 2001 the limit was upped to four in the squad but three on matchdays, and this is when the goalkeeper ban was introduced.
DID IT WORK?
Yes. Chinese goalkeepers have developed brilliantly in the time since the ban was introduced, going from being one of the biggest weaknesses to a true strength. For example Zeng Cheng, the #1 for Guangzhou Evergrade and the Chinese national side, was named goalkeeper of the year in 2016 (his second consecutive award and third overall) and was the rock at the back for Guanzhou during their 2015 Asian Champions League.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER BANS LIKE THIS?
Not exactly. The blocking of all foreign goalkeepers is quite unique, though restriction on foreign players is a much more common. The majority of Europe’s major leagues have limits on non-EU players that can be registered.
The Russian Premier League is even closer to China, with a hard limit of six foreign players that can be on the field at any one time for a Russian side. This ensures at least 10/22 Russians on the field at any given time during a Russian Premier League match.
Meanwhile an even closer comparison is to be found in another sport: cricket. The Indian Premier League was established, much like the Chinese Super League, with enormous spending power and the intent to lure world-class names to grace it. But like China, the IPL made sure to put a restriction; no more than 10 foreign players can be registered in the squad, and just 4 in the matchday XI.
This ensures a healthy representation of Indian players, allowing them to play with world-class talent from around the globe and thus improve. Exactly what China has done with their Super League restrictions.