Italian legend Fabio Cannavaro flouted the rules of his club Guangzhou Evergrande to keep the seven-time champions in the Chinese Super League title race.
Evergrande declared prior to the season that they would field only two foreign players at a time to promote homegrown talent.
But with his side trailing 1-0 at newly promoted Wuhan Zall at half-time on Friday night, Cannavaro brought on English-born former Everton defender Tyias Browning.
That left Evergrande with three foreign players on the pitch in the second half - Browning and the Brazilian midfielders Paulinho and Anderson Talisca.
Evergrande went on to win 3-2 - Talisca and Paulinho both scoring - and the team lie third in the table with a third of the campaign gone.
"Cannavaro broke the inside rules of the club and the appearance of the three players provided a signal that the team needed to win the game at all costs," said the Guangzhou Daily.
World Cup-winning captain Cannavaro, 45, defended the move.
"More than once I have said that Browning is a Chinese player. I don't know what the problem is," said the Italian.
The 24-year-old Browning, who left Premier League Everton for Guangzhou in February, is attempting to become a naturalised Chinese citizen.
But the former England youth international, who is said to have a Chinese grandfather, is registered as a foreign player, according to Chinese media.
Under CSL rules, a maximum of three foreigners can play at a time, but Evergrande placed their own restrictions limiting themselves to two this season.
Cannavaro is unlikely to be punished by the club, who are eight points behind runaway leaders Beijing Guoan.
Nico Yennaris, an English-born midfielder who has switched allegiance to China, scored as Beijing beat Tianjin Tianhai 2-1 at home.
That made it a perfect 10 wins in 10 matches for the capital club.