The Chinese Super League has shocked the soccer world by spending huge sums to attract star foreign players but new rules introduced for the start of the 2017 season will have a significant impact on the game in China, Asia and perhaps around the world.
On a statement on its official website on Monday, the China Football Association (CFA) outlined its plans to change the rules for the new season, which is less than two months away.
"In order to realize 'The General Plan of Chinese Football Reform and Development' and to benefit the overall development of Chinese football and Chinese local players, to enhance the quality of the national team and to keep the professional league on a healthy, stable and consistent track, the CFA has adjusted the regulations of the 2017 Chinese Super League," the statement said.
Under the existing rules, all 16 teams in the Chinese Super League are allowed to sign a maximum of 5 foreign players. All five can be named in the 18-man match-day roster but only 4 can take the field at any one time, and 1 of those players has to be from an Asian nation.
Under the new regulations, teams can still sign 5 foreign players, now from anywhere in the world as the 'Asian quota' is abolished, but only 3 can be included in match-day rosters.
Player agent Kim Dong-jun, who is based in Seoul and represents some Chinese players, said the new rules will turn the spotlight back on the locals.
"The teams that have the best Chinese players will be successful and the value of Chinese players is going to rise," Kim told Associated Press.
The value of Chinese players is already rising. On Friday, newly-promoted Chinese Super League team Tianjin Quanjian broke the domestic transfer record by paying around $10.6 million for goalkeeper Zhang Lu to Liaoning.
The elimination of the rule where teams have to have a foreigner from another Asian country will likely have the biggest impact in South Korea, according to Kim.
"K-League teams have lots of experience in selling players to China for lots of money," said Kim. "They have been doing this for three or four years, including smaller K-League teams that have smaller budgets. These changes will reduce the number of Koreans who go to China and could have a big financial impact on Korean clubs."
There are also some Australians likely to be effected. Adelaide United had agreed to sell James Holland to Liaoning. The move has been placed on hold and there is also uncertainty over the transfer of Robbie Kruse to the same club.
Also in 2017, each team will have to include one Under-23 player in the starting 11 and another in the match-day squad. On social media, Shanghai SIPG assistant coach Mads Davidsen expressed his surprise at the timing of the announcement but said that local players would benefit from the rule. "The U23-rule is very positive, plus one on the bench giving them all a chance. 5 (overseas players) are allowed in the squad, so no one has to leave."
The planned introduction of new rules has not had an immediate impact yet, with several teams spending up big in the transfer window, which opened on Jan. 1. Shanghai SIPG signed Brazilian midfielder Oscar from English Premier League leaders Chelsea for a reported figure of around $60 million to link up with fellow international Hulk. Shanghai Shenhua has recruited Carlos Tevez and has reportedly made the Argentine the highest-paid soccer player in the world.
Not everyone is happy with the huge amounts of money on offer though and earlier this month, the country's General Administration of Sport issued a warning to clubs that were spending large sums on foreign talent.
A spokesman said that the government, which under president Xi Jinping has been encouraging the growth of the sport in a bid to become a global soccer powerhouse by 2050, would "regulate and restrain high-priced signings and make reasonable restrictions on players' high incomes."
European teams are also wary with Chelsea manager Antonio Costa expressing his concern.
"The Chinese market is a danger for all," he said last month. "Not only for Chelsea, but all the teams in the world.
"But I think we must concentrate on our work, not think that in China there is a lot of money and they can arrive to take the players there."