The remarkable story of Oscar - From being Chelsea's next great hope to getting stuck in China

Oscar Forgotten MenReza Alfian Maulana

The exodus of many top European stars to the Chinese Super League (CSL) in the mid-2010s now feels like a football fever dream.

With the coronavirus pandemic having wreaked havoc and the once-limitless finances of the Chinese clubs having been curbed, players from Cedric Bakambu to Anthony Modeste have returned to more familiar shores.

One name remains out in Asia, however, and perhaps he is the most famous of the exiles – Oscar. So, why has he never gone back to Europe?

Oscar signed for Chelsea in summer 2012, and enjoyed significant success in England, winning a Premier League title in 2015, as well as a League Cup and the Europa League.

Oscar was a regular at Stamford Bridge even at a time of great managerial flux, with more than 200 appearances across four and a half seasons under Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Antonio Conte.

He may have won the club's goal of the season award twice but he never scored as freely as expected – he netted just 38 times for the Blues in all competitions – and he was played in almost every midfield and attacking position during his time in west London by his various managers.

Oscar Chelsea 2016 GFX
Getty/GOAL

Oscar's presence in the squad was rather a double-edged sword for Chelsea, who sold Kevin De Bruyne to give the Brazilian space to flourish – a move which looks more foolish with each passing week – while his admirable work-rate meant that he got played deeper and deeper, not allowing him to show the creativity that inspired the club to sign him in the first place.

Despite this, he was a key member of a squad challenging at the top of the Premier League and in the latter stages of European competition when it was revealed that he would be joining Shanghai SIPG during the 2017 January transfer window.

He was, after all, only 25 at the time. His peak years were still ahead of him, and it was just assumed that they would be spent at Chelsea.

That he would instead move to China stunned the football world but the figures involved in the shock transfer were staggering: a £67 million ($84m) transfer fee, and a weekly salary of £400,000 ($500,000), which made him the fifth-highest paid player in the world at the time.

Oscar was very open about money being the driving factor: he came from a poor family in Brazil, raised by a single mother since the age of three, and wanted to make enough cash in a short career to support them for the rest of their lives.

He was also expendable for Chelsea at that point, unable to force his way into Conte's 3-4-3, as Cesc Fabregas and N'Golo Kante nailed down the midfield places while Eden Hazard and Pedro took the wing berths.

So, how has Oscar done in China? Inconsistency has followed him to the far east, making Chelsea's decision to sell look even more understandable in hindsight.

Oscar Shanghai SIPG 2017 GFX
Getty/GOAL

His best year was 2018, when he scored 12 goals as Shanghai won their first ever CSL title, and he was named in the league team of the year.

However, the goals and trophies have dried up since, with just five strikes recorded in each of his last two campaigns, and his team – now known as Shanghai Port – recording a best finish of runners-up, in 2021.

What's most noteworthy is that he has stayed in the CSL, even as the other stars who moved for mega-money at the height of the league's popularity – from Axel Witsel to Yannick Carrasco – have long since jumped ship.

Oscar, by contrast, extended his contract in China, with his current deal running to 2024, and there was even talk at one stage of him switching international allegiance to the Asian nation, having not played for Brazil since 2016.

Oscar told Sportscene: “Of course, I can think about it because it's difficult to go to the Brazil national team now because I'm here, but in China everyone sees how good I play.

“The China national team need one good midfielder, so I think I can help with this. I like China, but the players now who go to China to change their nationality, they can do better also.”

Now 30, however, Oscar is looking for a route back to Europe – and is not afraid of selling himself in the press.

Oscar Chelsea
Goal/Getty

He suggested in September 2020 that his former club and international team mates David Luiz and Willian wanted him at Arsenal, but with both those players now moved on by Mikel Arteta, he has set his sights elsewhere.

Through 2021, Oscar regularly touted himself for a return to Chelsea: "I built a beautiful story there and went to the Premier League very young, at a time when fans did not trust Brazilian players that much.

"I helped change that. I’ll be a bit older when I try this move again but, as I am playing very well, with good stats, I feel there is still a place for me at Chelsea,” he told Yellow and Green Football in January that year.

“I think about finishing at Chelsea because I had good times before," he then told talkSPORT a couple of months later, while in May he primed himself for a summer switch by telling GOAL: "I have a good relationship with Chelsea, I have huge fondness for the club and its supporters.

"So, after my contract is over it's one of the clubs that I will consider with all of my heart."

However, with the overtures becoming notably one-sided, Oscar has now looked for other European landing spots.

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In January 2022, he claimed to be in talks with Barcelona and was willing to cut his enormous wages to make it happen.

It may well be that Oscar does come back to Europe, but given he is now the wrong side of 30 and with the goals having dried up just as much as the cash reserves at many top sides who would baulk at his enormous pay packet, it will not be at the level he hopes.