Chinese Super League (CSL) clubs may be spending large sums of money on bringing in players from Europe but, for the most part, the threat to the continent's hegemony has been overstated.
The latest CSL capture, John Obi Mikel, neatly sums up the majority of players who head east -- unloved at Chelsea, his salary demands prevented a move elsewhere in Europe on a similar pay grade so, with limited years left in his career, China proved to be an attractive option for the Nigerian.
Alex Teixeira and Oscar were different, arriving earlier in their respective careers, but neither had too much choice in the matter -- they either stayed put or headed to China. Shakhtar had demanded a £50 million fee for Teixeira which was far in excess of what English suitor Liverpool would pay. Oscar, meanwhile, would not have left Chelsea had it not been for the £60m fee on the table.
Yet Axel Witsel is a different case. The Belgian's arrival at Tianjin Quanjian is one of the first times a CSL club can truly claim to have beaten off high level European interest to secure a player. Juventus just couldn't compete financially with their Chinese rivals -- their offers were light years apart.
Furthermore, what separates Witsel from almost all who have arrived in China to date is the openness with which he has talked about his reasons to accept Quanjian's offer. Much to his credit, the 27-year-old midfielder revealed that is was purely a financial decision to reject the Italian giants' offer and join up with the newly-promoted side on a reported £255,000-a-week.
Quanjian are no ordinary club, even by Chinese standards. Having taken over second-tier Tianjin Songjiang in 2015, they embarked on a significant spending spree which saw Brazil internationals Luis Fabiano and Jadson arrive. And, this summer, former Italy star Fabio Cannavaro was named as manager.
A company which sells "natural medicines," they have not been shy in their spending -- notoriously paying their 2015 end-of-year bonuses in cash at a ceremony where players were also given top of the range iPhones. That they are now pursuing European stars such as Witsel is little surprise given the flamboyant way the club has been run to date.
But it is interesting to note that, after the deal was announced, on Thursday China's Sports General Administration (CSGA) issued a statement that the government will "regulate and restrain high-priced signings, and make reasonable restrictions on players' high incomes." The flow of capital out of China through football transfers has now attracted high-level attention and there will be new demands to increase financial transparency and accountability.
In that context it is right to ask: is the CSL horse about to bolt? The answer, for now at least, is likely to be "not yet." The flow of money will continue apace for the time being, with footballing objectives still to be met and competition between club owners meaning they will continue to delve deep into their pockets for the time being. However, it may not be long before the rush of signings is slowed and CSL clubs are unable to outbid the likes of Juventus without attracting unwanted attention from authorities above.
While football investment may have previously been a way to ingratiate oneself to the government, should it become reason for audit then owning a side would no longer hold such allure. Indeed, it could become dangerous territory.
It is likely that the CSGA's statement was just a warning shot, rather than any meaningful policy. Signing the likes of Witsel and Tevez will undoubtedly still be seen as a coup by China's top brass, but how long can CSL spending last?
Just over a year ago, with Guangzhou Evergrande leading the way, the CSL's long-term profitability looked in good shape as sponsorships rose and spending remained manageable. However, the likes of Shanghai SIPG, Shenhua, Hebei China Fortune and Jiangsu Sainty have changed the parameters and others have responded in kind. In doing so, they may just have prompted a government volte-face after previous encouragement.
The CSL has become a byword for financial irresponsibility at a time when capital flight is a concern for the country's wider economy. Whatever the benefits to football such spending may bring, it is a situation which will not be allowed to get out of hand by those in charge. Witsel's one-of-a-kind deal may well remain just that.