Possibility of naturalised players in the Chinese Super League puts a different complexion on football’s future

  • Are we about to see Chinese national team scouts searching far and wide for Chinese sounding names?
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 11:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2018, 7:23pm

The concept of naturalised footballers seems new but it has a long history. Indeed Italy won the first World Cup in 1938 with players of Italian heritage born and raised in South America that they naturalised ahead of the tournament while Diego Costa is the latest in a long list to represent Spain dating back to the 1920s. However, it is new for China.

Reports from mainland media over recent weeks have suggested that Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan have been investigating naturalising players of Chinese heritage to allow them to play as Chinese nationals rather than foreigners in the league next season. The players in question are former Arsenal youth prospect Nico Yennaris and Norwegian youth international John Saeter Hou and the capital club are understood to have made “substantial progress”.

The 25-year-old Londoner, who is also eligible to play for Cyprus, is now at Brentford in the Championship while 20-year-old Hou is at Stabaek in the Tippeligen. Both are eligible through their mothers and would be good signings. They would also surely lead a charge from all CSL clubs to exploit the new ruling and find players eligible for naturalisation.

Last year, 15-year-old Spanish footballing hopeful Jesus Carrasco Zhou expressed his interest in taking up Chinese citizenship in order to facilitate his dream of turning professional. There are plenty more players who are further along in their careers who will now be on the radar of Chinese clubs.

Tahith Chong at Manchester United, who was named young player of the year at last season’s awards, is one of them although the 18-year-old Netherlands youth international has expressed his desire to make it at Old Trafford. Similarly, CSKA Moscow’s Li Tenglong has been mentioned. The Russian born youngster is also eligible to play for Vietnam but was called up to China under-19s earlier this year. Javen Siu, a 19-year-old defender, at Southampton is another.

Former China international Gao Sheng’s son Takahiro Ko, 20, is at Gamba Osaka in Japan’s J.League while former Germany international Jurgen Klinsmann’s son Jonathan is a goalkeeper at German Bundesliga side Hertha BSC. Klinsmann has played youth internationals for the county of his birth rather than his father’s.

There is a lot of potential, like Ryuken Nishizawa Fung at Barcelona, although Mexico are hopeful that he will be the Mexican Messi that he has been billed as since he was not even a teenager. He could represent Japan or China through his grandparents.

Elsewhere in Spain is Remy Cho, an Australian at La Liga side Leganes. Or there’s England under-20 defender Tyias Browning at Everton, who has made seven English Premier League appearances for the club.

After yet another whacky move it’s time to ask: why can’t the Chinese Football Association stop shooting itself in the foot?

The CSL’s new rule changes for next season mean that Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau players are no longer restricted – clubs can sign and play as many as they want as long as the transfer fees for such players stays under 20 million yuan (US$2.8 million). Presumably that’s another avenue of naturalisation now opened up.

Players in that bracket include Tim Chow, once of Wigan Athletic and now plying his trade at Serbian side Spartak Subotica, has represented Taiwan once after being called up by Gary White last year.

From Hong Kong, there’s Salford born Sean Tse who came through the Manchester City academy at Hong Kong Premier League side Guangzhou R&F and his teammates, former Bundesliga starlet Zhi Gan Lim and Tang Chun-lok, once of Peterbrough.

Muzepper case hints at future of Chinese national team – multicultural, middle class and maybe not doomed to mediocrity

Much like Jack Charlton did with Ireland in the 1990s, clubs will be looking at anyone with a Chinese seeming name. Verona goalkeeper Joseph Hu and Hanover striker Bobby Shou Wood being two such examples.

There are potentially scores of footballers that are eligible – with somewhere in the region of 100 current professionals among them. These include players from long-standing Chinese communities such as Jamaica and Suriname in the Caribbean and Southeast Asian nations Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. They include international footballers from Panama (Roberto Chen) to Gabon (Alexander N’Doumbou) playing in leagues across the globe.

Chinese football in crisis? Don’t believe everything you read - especially in the English press

Names of the past such as US internationals Brian Ching and Mark Chung plus 1988 European Championship winner Aron Winter or fellow Ajax legend and earlier Netherlands international Tschen La Ling would have been eligible in previous generations. Over time it is a talent pool that will only get bigger.

It also opens up the possibility of naturalised players representing the Chinese national team. Shanghai SIPG striker Elkeson, who has never been capped by Brazil despite being called up to the Selecao squad, has expressed his desire to represent China in interviews before. The top scoring foreigner has been in China since December 2012.

Who knows what the future holds for the Chinese Super League and China’s national team, but it is certain to look a little different.