Six players that abandoned the Chinese Super League to return to Europe

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Every Premier League manager remembers where they were when the Chinese Super League threatened to take over football.

Antonio Conte would likely back himself in most touchline argey bargeys, but the then Chelsea manager was petrified of China’s sudden ascent within football. “The Chinese market is a danger for all” the now Tottenham Hotspur boss said in 2017, shortly after Blues midfielder Oscar shocked the footballing world by becoming one of the first high-profile players to move to China.

Didier Drogba may have moved to China in 2012, but the Blues legend was in the twilight of his career, while Oscar was only just entering his prime years. But with the Chinese Super League crippling beneath a financial crisis and the decision to cap the number of foreign exports, Daily Star Sport considers six players who quickly returned to Europe after a stint in China.

Axel Witsel

Read More: 4 top footballers still playing in Chinese Super League and earning an absolute fortune

Witsel was one of the finest defensive midfielders in Europe when he suddenly switched Zenit St Petersburg for Tianjin Tianhai. At the time he was only 27-years-old, had 78 international caps for Belgium, and was frequently courted by some of the best clubs in Europe.

But after less than eight months in China, Witsel decided he’d had enough, eventually joining Borussia Dortmund. After four successful years with the German giants, the classy midfielder joined Atletico Madrid this summer on a free transfer.

Yannick Carrasco

What other Chinese Super League players decided China was not for them? Let us know in the comments section below

18 months after scoring the equalising goal in the Champions League final, Carrasco snubbed purported interest from Manchester United to join Dalian Professional in 2018. At the time, the Atletico winger was only 25-years-old and was beginning to entrench himself as one of the most dangerous players in La Liga.

Two years later, Carrasco rejoined Diego Simeone’s side on loan, appearing to jump ship from China upon realising which was it was going. He would eventually rejoin the Spanish giants on a permanent basis in the summer of 2020. The Spaniard remains a key part of Simeone’s squad.

Didier Drogba

Buoyed by scoring a dramatic equaliser and the iconic final spotkick in Chelsea’s first ever Champions League triumph, Didier Drogba waved goodbye to the Blues to join Shanghai Shenhua. At the time, China were laying the foundations for their footballing coup and Drogba was one of the first big names to move to the country.

The Ivory Coast ace could only tolerate six months in China, before sealing a shock loan move to Galatasaray. Incredibly, he ended up back at Chelsea where he would play a key role in his fourth Premier League title triumph at Stamford Bridge.

Marko Arnautovic

Marko Arnautovic's desire to move to China resulted in his bitter exit from West Ham United. The Austrian was one of the east Londoners most important players, yet Sky Sports presenter Kaveh Solhekol claimed his teammates and manager reportedly wanted him out.

Unfortunately, Arnautovic quickly realised his move to China was not the dream he was anticipating. After less than two years in China, he would move to Italian side Bologna on the cheap where he almost secured a stunning move to Manchester United.

Marek Hamsik

A wonderful midfielder lovingly remembered by Napoli fans and those who tuned in to Slovakia’s matches in Euro 2016. After 12 iconic seasons with the Naples based giants, Hamsik moved to Dalian Professional in a deal worth around £18m.

After two seasons at the club, he would depart the Chinese side to join Swedish side IFK Goteborg. Unfortunately for the midfield maestro, Sweden did not agree with him either, so he joined Turkish joins Trabzonspor in the summer of 2021.

Demba Ba

The former Chelsea and Newcastle United suffered a horrific leg break during his first campaign with Shanghai Shenhua. When he eventually recovered, Ba appeared to come to his senses, returning to Besiktas on loan.

He gave the Chinese Super League another try when he moved to Chinese second division side Goztepe, but his time with the club lasted six months, before he moved to Istanbul Basaksehir. He now resides with Swiss giants FC Lugano.

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