HONG KONG, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Chinese Super League teams will be forced to field at least one and as many as three players under the age of 23 next season after new rules were put in place by the country’s football authorities on Friday.
Clubs will be forced to match the number of foreign players in their starting lineups with the same number of unde-23s, while a rule implemented last season stipulating coaches must select at least one under-23 player remains.
The foreign player quota remains unchanged with teams allowed to field a maximum of three non-Chinese players. They will also be allowed to select one player from Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan, who will not count towards the foreign player tally.
The Chinese Super League will also use the Virtual Assistant Referee system for the first time next season.
Regulations put in place just days before the start of the 2017 season saw clubs forced to select one under-23 player in their starting lineup, with the move proving unpopular with coaches.
Several, including former Shanghai SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas, regularly substituted the young player soon after the opening whistle, prompting calls for further action from within the Chinese game.
Chinese authorities have made the move to ensure more inexperienced players are given the opportunity to play in the country’s top tier after years of disappointing performances by the national team.
China has only qualified once for the World Cup finals - in 2002 - but president Xi Jinping has declared his desire to see the country qualify for, host and win the tournament.
As a result of the huge boost in interest in the sport in China, Chinese Super League club owners have spent vast sums to lure leading players and coaches to the country.
Authorities, however, have stepped in to curb overspending on transfer fees and salaries.
Regulations put in place ahead of the summer window imposing a tax on transfer fees over 45 million yuan ($6.84 million) for foreign players and 20 million yuan for Chinese players remain in place. ($1 = 6.5760 Chinese yuan renminbi) (Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, Editing by Toby Davis)