Which Chinese Super League players will fans get to see at the World Cup when the league takes two months off for Russia 2018?
Limit on foreigners, countries failing to qualify and combination of one cap wonders, has-beens and never-weres means only a handful are on the plane
China’s football fans will not have any Chinese Super League matches to watch in the summer.
The normal summer break – a necessity in much of the country where temperatures are not suitable for sport – has been extended from one month to two in this World Cup year and games will stop from matchday 11 on May 20 until July 17, two days after the World Cup final in Moscow.
Many are keen to use the break as an opportunity to jump over the border and take in Russia 2018 first hand, some 100,000 Chinese visitors are expected during the tournament, and they will get to see a handful of players from the domestic top flight pulling on their national kit and going for the biggest prize in the game.
There are a number of reasons why it is no more than a handful.
The obvious one, the elephant in the room of Chinese football, is that 90-odd per cent of the players are Chinese and China is not going to the World Cup.
Then there is the fact that only 32 nations of Fifa’s members can compete this summer, so most have missed out.
Arguably the best foreigner in the league, last season’s MVP Eran Zahavi won’t be going with Israel, though him quitting the national team has as much to do with the country failing to qualify.
Hebei China Fortune’s Gervinho, who played at the last World Cup in Brazil, won’t be there as Ivory Coast are not going to Russia. It’s a similar story for Christian Bassogog with Cameroon.
He moved to Henan after being named the best player at the last African Cup of Nations, which Cameroon won last year, but won’t be lighting up Russia. Nor will the Ghanian pair of Richmond Boakye and Frank Acheampong after the Black Stars missed out, as did Paraguay so there’s no place for Oscar Romero. All of these are regular internationals for countries that regularly make the World Cup, just not this year.
In spite of the influx of foreign stars that has made so many headlines and sparked interest in the CSL overseas, there are plenty of players that have never played for their full national teams. Some of these are among the biggest names in the league, such as France’s Anthony Modeste and Brazil’s Alex Teixera and Alan Carvalho. Others include players who do a job in the CSL, Renatinho and Johnathan for example, but have never featured in the Brazil set-up at any level or age-group stars that didn’t make the step up. Chongqing Lifan’s two-goal hero Alan Kardec was a Brazil under-20 while Jonathan Soriano starred for Spain as a youngster but at 32 is not going to do so for the full side.
Cruelly, Elkeson, the top foreign scorer in CSL history, was called up for Brazil v Argentina in 2011 but never got off the Maracana bench.
There are those who did slightly better than the Elk, the one cap wonders.
Former Guangzhou Evergrande teammate Ricardo Goulart has one appearance for Brazil and Orlando Sa has a solitary outing for Portugal in 2009. Goulart made his bow back in 2014 as the country looked to get back on its footballing feet following humiliation against Germany. Apparently he was not the answer.
Beijing Guoan’s Jonathan Viera has played once for Spain, last year after the team qualified for Russia 2018. He featured in a much-changed line-up against Israel.
Not every national team is comfortable picking players plying their trade in the Chinese Super League and some of them have fallen off the radar since heading east.
Record signing Oscar has not played for Brazil since 2015 and teammate Hulk has not featured since 2016, with Ramires and Hernanes not called up since the last World Cup. Former Golden Boy Pato has not pulled on the yellow shirt since 2013. None of these players were in China when they lost their place but it certainly hasn’t helped them get it back.
Colombia’s Fredy Guarin was at Shanghai Shenhua for many of his national caps but has not played since 2015, similarly with Hebei’s Ezequiel Lavezzi who last played for Argentina when he broke his elbow at the Copa America Centenario in 2016, the same year as Nico Gaitan last played for Argentina.
Jiansu’s Gabriel Paletta last played for Italy in Brazil four summers ago while Shandong Luneng’s Graziano Pelle has not played since 2016 but he was snubbed for refusing to shake the coach’s hand when he was subbed.
Other players are on the fringes and have four games before the league breaks and the squads begin to take shape.
Gil and Diego Tardelli, who both scored for Shandong Luneng, would be unlikely call-ups to Tite’s Brazil squad but both have featured in the last year. Similarly for Kwon Kyung-won and Nemanja Gudelj who have been in the South Korea and Serbia squads recently enough to harbour hope even if they have not been in the most recent squads.
Javier Mascherano is the most high profile player who is in limbo but that is in part down to the campaign back home to drop him. And then there are the shoo-ins.
Argentina fans sing about not selecting Mascherano
Nigeria captain and “uncontested leader” Jon Obi Mikel will be there despite missing the last squad because of work permit issues, as will South Korea captain Kim Young-gwon.
Mikel’s Super Eagles teammate Odion Ighalo’s four-goal haul will surely have secured his spot and would have been joined by Obafemi Martins but for his season ending injury.
Shenhua skipper Gio Moreno is there with Colombia and Tite’s most trusted lieutenant Renato Augusto is likely to start for Brazil alongside former CSL star Paulinho.
Belgium will call on Axel Witsel and Yannick Carrasco, whose Dalian Yifang teammate Jose Fonte should be there for Portugal.
Plenty for the CSL curious to pore over but maybe it doesn’t matter, Chinese fans are all going to support Germany anyway, right?