“The holy grail in football that everybody is looking for is the Chinese Messi,” Adelaide United chairman Piet van der Pol told The Advertiser newspaper back in March. “Every club in the world is looking for that.” “Why does Barcelona want the Chinese Messi? Because there is 1.5 billion people and commercial opportunities that will increase even the biggest clubs in the world,” he went on. Never mind the Chinese Messi, many clubs want their own Wu Lei, having seen the interest generated by Espanyol’s signing of China’s best player. The same can’t be said for Adelaide United’s final signing ahead of the A-League season as the arrival of Chen Yongbin was announced to shrugged shoulders in both Australia and China. In a press conference before the FFA cup match, Gertjan Verbeek, the head coach of Adelaide United, revealed they will sign a Chinese player of the attacking side as the fifth Visa player. Adelaide United is owned by Piet Van Der Pol, who also owns CL2 outfit Qingdao Red Lion. pic.twitter.com/WFFiVm4ARm — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) August 20, 2019 “During our scouting processes, we had looked at a couple of other possible signings, however, decided upon Chen as we believe he is one of the most promising young talents at Qingdao Red Lions.” The China League Two side are also owned by Van der Pol, with the sister side located in Adelaide’s sister city in Shandong province. That connection is why it has long been expected that a Chinese player would be coming through the doors at Hindmarsh Stadium, while coach Gertjan Verbeek asserted as much in an interview in August. This led to speculation that one of Guangzhou Evergrande’s younger China internationals, Wei Shihao or Yang Liyu, would head to South Australia. It was not even one of the two China under-17 internationals that Van der Pol claims have risen from the Red Lions ranks. Instead it was the unknown Chen, who Van der Pol talked up in the new signing announcement. I will reserve final judgment until I see him play, but generally it's not a good sign when a team signs a player whose name turns up precisely nothing on Google. So good luck to Yongbin Chen of Adelaide United - reach for that Wikipedia notability threshold. #aleague — Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) October 15, 2019 “At 20 years of age, Chen is an offensive midfielder who has a lot of potential and we are excited to contribute to his development at Adelaide United,” Van der Pol said in the statement announcing the signing. Credit to the chairman, he has made clear his motivations for signing a Chinese player. “The Chinese football market is at this moment developing to be the biggest market in the world financially,” he told The Advertiser this week. “This gives Adelaide United commercial opportunities,” he said, adding that the club was in talks with Chinese media interested in following Chen’s progress. That media interest has not emerged just yet, and the handful of stories on the Chinese internet ask the same as those in English, namely “Who is this lad?”. According to reports in China, Chen was only signed by Qingdao a month ago and had been playing five-a-side in the city. He never racked up an appearance for the China League Two side. If every signing is a gamble, this is one with incredibly long odds, but it’s one worth taking. “Imagine if Adelaide United has a Chinese player here and 30 million people watching the game compared to several tens of thousands on Fox here,” he told The Advertiser in that March interview. However, the signing has brought criticism from fans and pundits when the side went into the FFA Cup final on Wednesday night with a patched-up squad due to injuries. Why would the club not strengthen rather than risk a visa spot, they asked, especially as Chen will be with the youth team for several months? There’s a bigger question. Would the club not have more chance of cracking China with someone people in China had heard of? Fans are always quick to write off signings of Chinese players, if not Asian footballers in general, as having been done for commercial reasons. Being signed to “sell shirts” is an easier stick to beat players with when it is explicit and may weigh heavily on Chen. Commercial reasons may have been behind Dong Fangzhou’s shock signing by Manchester United in 2004 and it certainly did drive Li Weifeng’s arrival at Kejian-sponsored Everton. Adelaide United chairman Piet Van der Pol says signing a Chinese player will be an annual exercise for the Reds [Advertiser] — A-League Hub (@AleagueHub) October 17, 2019 But Dong made it to the 2005 FifPro Young Player list with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Arjen Robben, while Li was a China international at the time he arrived at Goodison Park. Still, neither would light up the English Premier League. Even Chen Zhizhao, who signed for Brazilian giants Corinthians in 2012 after marketing director Luis Paulo Rosenberg said they would bring in “any old rubbish from China” to promote the club there, has had a solid Chinese Super League career before and since. Signing a complete unknown is a novel approach and the fear is that Adelaide’s Chen will be more Ma Leilei than Messi. The Chinese winger had played in the AFC Champions League but he was signed by the Newcastle Jets simply because owner Martin Lee wanted Chinese players in the squad. . @NewcastleJetsFC chief executive Lawrie McKinna says he doesn’t expect an offer to be tabled for Ma Leilei #ALeague pic.twitter.com/778vf8K2mS — FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) February 14, 2017 After 15 games, Ma last played for the Jets in March 2017 and was last seen on trial at Beijing Renhe in 2018. Being signed for commercial reasons appears to have killed his career. Chen’s is just starting and, who knows, he could be football’s first world beater to be plucked from nowhere. Don’t bet on it.