Odion Ighalo capture shows CSL is more than just an elite group of clubs
If there was an award for most surprising transfer of the window, Odion Ighalo's £20 million switch from Watford to Changchun Yatai may just be it. The Nigerian endured a barren spell in front of goal following a sensational 2015 calendar year and has been linked with Chinese clubs for some time, yet nobody would have called previously frugal Changchun as his destination.
It is not that the club have not spent money -- Bolivia striker Marcelo Moreno did not come cheap (a $2.8m transfer combined with a large salary). However, they have never come close to realising the size of transfer Ighalo's four-year contract and sizeable transfer fee dictate. It is a deal which puts Changchun, suddenly, among the CSL's ever widening group of big spenders.
Such was the unlikelihood of such a deal that Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol tweeted Ighalo even had to Google his new club to know where he was headed. While the likes of Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai Shenhua and now Tianjin Quanjian are becoming recognised names internationally, it is fair to say Changchun are far from China's most glamorous of sides.
Watford striker Odion Ighalo had never heard of Chinese club he's joining in £20m deal. Had to google "Changchun Yatai"- Kaveh Solhekol (@SkyKaveh) February 1, 2017
Indeed, but for a dramatic turnaround in the final games of last season it is Yatai rather than Hangzhou Greentown who would have been preparing for a campaign in China League One this season. For large swathes of the season, they had shown little sign of possessing the ability to remain in the top flight.
Ighalo, having twice rejected the advances of Hebei China Fortune in the past, could resist the lure of Chinese fortunes no more.
With Watford's transfer demands high, Changchun were able to beat potential interest from the Premier League as well as offer a life-changing contract -- even for a player with experience in not just England, but also La Liga and Serie A.
"When the previous offers arrived, Watford had only just been promoted and he wanted to test himself in the Premier League. It had always been his dream," Ighalo's agent Atta Aneke told ESPN FC.
"This time around Changchun showed they really wanted him so there were no real hesitations about going to the club. It was all about the offer."
For Chinese sides, Ighalo fits the bill. The demand of centre-forwards is to be a one-man attacking unit at times, requiring the ability to take on opponents single-handedly with pace and strength. As the overseas player quota drops further to three players per game this campaign, that individual ability will only grow yet further in importance.
With the pace of Brazilian wingers Marinho and Bruno Meneghel the other attacking options, Ighalo's task will be to provide a focal point for the attack. His physique alone will make him a major force to be reckoned with and in a side far from blessed with Chinese talent, his fortunes will be crucial to the team's hopes of a good season.
What we are seeing already following the rule change last month is that several teams are considering registering only four of their permitted five foreign players, but going big on quality for the four they will use.
While the standard may not be anywhere near the level of the Premier League, Ighalo will soon discover there is an intense demand on the few foreign players to perform week after week. It can be gruelling at times and the changes will mean that the overseas stars are even less likely to be substituted than in previous years.
Off the pitch, the developing city of Changchun will also provide a culture shock for a player used to the life of North London. Living in industry-heavy North East China can be a far from easy environment to adapt to. Yet these are the choices increasingly facing players as China's big spending expands beyond the international cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
China's clubs may have been issued a warning over their spending, but Changchun's latest outlay shows the gentle flow of players into the country will not be abating anytime soon. The need to remain competitive demands expenditure and Changchun are just the latest side to feel the need to step up their game.
Ighalo's move, as with that of John Obi Mikel to Tianjin TEDA earlier in the window, shows the net has widened over recent months, with increasing numbers of clubs able to splash out on elite talent.
More so than one or two clubs spending tens of millions, this broadening of the spread of talent may just be the most significant development yet in the growth of the CSL.
Chris Atkins is based in China and writes for ESPN FC about the Chinese Super League. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_.