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BEIJING - The guessing game for which famous soccer star will be the next to land in China went hotly on as more big names were linked to the Chinese soccer.
File picture dated 10 March 2012 of Chelsea's Didier Drogba celebrating after scoring the 1-0 lead during the English Premier League soccer match against Stoke City FC at Stamford Bridge in London, Britain. Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba confirmed on 22 May 2012 that he will leave Chelsea on a free transfer at the end of June 2012 after eight years with the London club. [Photo/CFP]
Former Dutch playmaker Clarence Seedorf's picture of him standing in front of the Beijing Guoan club on Monday spread quickly on the internet and led to a new round of guesswork as whether he will join the 2009 Chinese Super League (CSL) champions.
Also on Monday, Cote d'Ivoire great Didier Drogba told the newly-crowned Champions League winners Chelsea that he would leave next season and reports linked him with another CSL team Shanghai Shenhua.
Despite that sources close to Guoan said that the 36-year-old Seedorf only came here for a youth program, the enthusiasm for world class stars is expected to keep up in an effort to regenerate the scandal-tarnished Chinese soccer.
The latest arrival of high profile figure is former Italy coach Marcello Lippi who inked a three-year contract with the super-rich Guangzhou Evergrande and reportedly is paid 10 million euros (about $13 million) per year.
The coming of Lippi, who claiming his first CSL win Sunday after in charge of the South China club for three days, had the Chinese fans happily surprised again as they may still revel from the signing of French striker Nicolas Anelka, by far the most highly paid foreign player in China, joining Shenhua team in January with a two-year contract worth around 13 million euros per year.
Ex-Chelsea star Anelka's big money move easily subdued Evergrande's former record signing of Brazilian championship MVP Dario Conca. The Argentine midfielder was brought to Guangzhou last year with a yearly salary of seven million dollars and 10 million dollars transfer fee.
Only to underline the shopping spree, Paraguayan international Lucas Barrios will start playing for Evergrande on June 1 after the club with a real estate background paid Bundesliga winners Dortmund 8.3 million euros of transfer fee for the striker.
One result of the large spendings in 2012, officially estimated at about three billion yuan (around $480 million) from the Super League and first division clubs, is to produce some of the richest soccer stars in the world.
The March issue of France Football maganize listed Anelka as the 14th big earner while Conca placed 18th, ahead of Italian international goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
One may wonder whether a single star can make a difference to a team, just as former Evergrande coach Lee Jang-soo did. Lee was replaced by Lippi after the South Korean took the team to the CSL throne last season and qualify for AFC Champions League round of 16 this month.
Anelka, recently appointed player-coach, faces a big challenge to help Shenhua rise in the standings. Shenhua is struggling in 14th place after 11 rounds in the 16-team CSL and the bottom two sides will be relegated into the first division.
But Evergrande believed they eventually would get their money worth out of the game and not just for their club.
"We hope to bring here more world-level players in their prime in a bid to improve the league and build a better image of Chinese soccer," the Evergrande spokesperson said.
Their belief was backed by statistics as 4.23 million fans poured into the stadia in 2011 and Evergrande's home stadium alread saw several capacity-crowd matches in this biggest season in Chinese soccer history in 2012.