Amid the astronomical sums used to lure the likes of Alex Teixeira, Jackson Martinez, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Ramires – which dwarfed the Premier League’s spending by more than $100million between January 1 and February 26 – there was another international to swap Europe for the Chinese Super League.
Australia defender Trent Sainsbury quit Eredivisie outfit PEC Zwolle to play under former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu at Jiangsu Suning, the same team who forked out around $60m to sign Brazilian duo Teixeira and Ramires.
Sainsbury said leaving the Netherlands after two years and a KNVB Cup was the most difficult decision of his career, but the 24-year-old centre-back has hit the ground running at Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre.
While the CSL season only kicked off last week, Sainsbury has already made four appearances for the 2015 Chinese FA Cup champions.
Of those matches, two have come in the AFC Champions League, in which Jiangsu remain unbeaten after seeing off Jeonbuk Motors 3-2 following a first-up 1-1 draw at Binh Duong.
Jiangsu were beaten by Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Asian and CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao 2-0 in the Super Cup, though they did respond with a season-opening 3-0 win over Shandong Luneng in front of more than 48,000 fans, and Sainsbury admitted he has been taken aback by the standard of football in China.
“It’s early days but the quality of some of the players, especially of some Chinese national team players, has surprised me,” Sainsbury told Omnisport.
“The foreigners are always a class above and they’re usually the difference between winning and losing games. Overall I’m impressed with the setup and the football.
“Professionalism is also helped by foreign coaches and staff. There’s some things that can be better but if this is what they have to work with and they keep investing, the future is definitely bright for Chinese football.”
Asked what has surprised him, Sainsbury said: “Technique was definitely one but also physicality, as well as just a little bit of smarts on the pitch.
“Our captain [China international Wu Xi] is a very good player and could easily play in Holland.
“Not every player is quality with their feet, so like many others they work on their strengths which is running for 90 minutes at full speed or being really powerful and strong in defence.”
Sainsbury is one of five imports at Jiangsu, alongside Teixeira, Ramires, Jo and former Croatia international Sammir.
And unsurprisingly, Teixeira and Ramires have stolen the show.
Teixeira netted a brace in the win over Shandong to make it three goals in four matches, while ex-Chelsea midfielder Ramires opened his account against fellow Brazil internationals Gil and Diego Tardelli in the same game.
“I think they are doing well and adjusting to life here. It makes it a lot easier having four Brazilians in one squad,” Sainsbury said. “I need to brush up on my Mandarin and Portuguese.”
Sainsbury has struck a particularly good friendship with Ramires and it has been noticeable on the pitch, with the pair regularly combining in build-up play from the backline through to the strikers.
And Sainsbury – winner of the 2013 A-League championship with Central Coast Mariners – said: “He’s a very cool down to earth guy. Not what I expected at all coming from the Premier League and one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
“You can see on the pitch why they paid the money for him because he’s very energetic and full of running, plus with Brazilian flare it’s a winning combination. I’d rather play with him than against him.”