The odds have been shortened on another high-profile football name joining the megabucks Chinese Super League – only this time it’s a referee.
Englishman Mark Clattenburg, who was named best referee in the world at the Globe Soccer Awards on Tuesday night, has emerged as a target for the wealthy league.
After an exceptional 2016 that saw him take charge of the FA Cup final, the Champions League final and the European Championship final, the 41-year-old would be seen as a big coup for the Chinese.
Bookmakers Ladbrokes are offering odds of 25-1 for the Premier League official to make the unprecedented move.
Chinese football has been plagued by match-fixing and corruption allegations, and the league’s organisers would see the recruitment of a high-profile official like Clattenburg as a big step towards tackling the problem.
Clattenburg took charge of the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Crystal Palace at Wembley, and then the Champions League showpiece between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid in Milan in May.
He was then selected to officiate the Euro 2016 final between hosts France and Portugal at the Stade de France in Paris in July.
Clattenburg was also praised for his handling of crowd trouble during the group match between the Czech Republic and Croatia in Saint-Etienne, when Croatian hooligans threw flares onto the pitch.
Clattenburg suspended play for several minutes and kept the players out of danger, while the situation was calmed.
He was presented with the best referee prize at the Globe Soccer Awards in Dubai, attended by representatives from the Chinese Super League.
Several high-profile players have been attracted to the Chinese league by the extraordinary wages on offer, with Chelsea’s Oscar joining Shanghai SIPG in a €70.29 million deal earlier this month.
Ramires, Hulk and Graziano Pelle are among those who have joined Chinese teams, while Argentine striker Carlos Tevez has been linked with a €600.000 a-week deal at Shanghai Shenhua.
The Belgian international Axel Witsel was long being linked to a move to Turin, himself saying that it was only a matter of when he joined Serie A giants Juventus, not if.
Recent events took a different turn, however, with the 27-year-old accepting a huge €18 million a year salary from Chinese club Tianjin, Coached by former Juventus man Fabio Cannavaro.
“It was a very difficult decision to make because on one side I had a top club like Juventus,” he told Tuttosport (via SportMediaset), “but on the other there was an offer I couldn’t say no to, both for my own future and that of my family”.
The Belgian signed a four year deal, which includes €2m more in bonuses. Zenit were paid €20m, far higher than the €6m Juventus had offered.