SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China will tighten rules over the number of overseas players able to appear in domestic games, amid concerns that clubs have been over-spending on foreign talent with a rapid growth in the huge fees being paid for high-profile imports.

Clubs in the country's top leagues would be limited to fielding a maximum of three foreign players per game for the 2017 season, down from the current five, China's Football Association said in a statement on Monday.

A spate of investment by Chinese clubs has seen players such as Brazil's Oscar and Argentine Carlos Tevez make big-money moves to China over the last month. Shanghai SIPG signed Oscar from English club Chelsea in a deal said to make him the highest-paid player in the world.

However, the drive has prompted fierce criticism from officials and local media, with Xinhua saying earlier this month that clubs were "burning money" on overpaid foreign talent and neglecting the development of domestic players.


Chinese officials have said clubs should impose salary caps and create special funds to develop home-grown talent.

Teams can currently have three foreign players plus one Asian player on the field at any one time, a system referred to as the "3+1" rule. A fifth foreign player can be used as a substitute as long as the "3+1" rule is maintained.

Clubs would still be able to register five foreign players in their overall squad, the association said, but the rule would mean not all could be used in any one game, a potential disincentive to loading a squad with international imports.

The association said in the statement that teams would also have to include two younger domestic players born in or after 1994 in their match day squad, of whom one would have to start the game.

"The FA will roll out a series of measures to regulate the operation and management of clubs in terms of irrational investment, and high transfer fees and wages for domestic and international players," the body said, referring to clubs in the top Chinese Super League and China League One.

Driven by soccer-loving President Xi Jinping, China has also been using its financial might to invest in prestigious overseas clubs like Inter Milan in Italy.

(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by John O'Brien)