Why Tsun Dai still gets in Gary White’s Hong Kong squad after training with China Under-21s
- The 19-year-old football prodigy is in 30-man squad for EAFF Cup
- Angry Hong Kong netizens called him ‘betrayer’ after China training camp
Promising England exile Dai Wai-tsun’s international future is up in the air but he could be sticking with Hong Kong, at least for the moment, simply because the price to play for China may be too high.
The Hong Kong-born 19-year-old was a surprise selection in Gary White’s latest 30-member preliminary squad announced on Wednesday, despite being embroiled in a national team saga following his involvement with the China youth team.
Hong Kong coach White is preparing for his first competitive tournament since taking over in September, with matches against North Korea, Mongolia and hosts Taiwan in the EAFF Cup second round early next month.
Better known as Tsun Dai in England where he plays his professional football for Oxford United, Dai was subjected to sudden vitriol from Hong Kong fans when it was reported he went for a training camp with the China Under-21 national team in Amsterdam earlier this month.
This happened after Dai was dropped for Hong Kong’s friendly against visitors Thailand on October 11. It was the first time he had been called up by the senior representative team, but he said he was still recovering from a knee problem sustained playing for his English League One club’s Under-23 side.
Angry netizens immediately sounded off about Dai on social media, labelling him a “betrayer” of Hong Kong football and asking him never to return to the city.
Even White seemed annoyed. “We will continue to keep him [Dai] on our radar as we will try to put the best players on the field for Hong Kong, and people that want to fight,” the coach said after the Thailand match. “But if someone doesn’t want to come, they don’t want to come.”
But there is a lengthy process if Dai wants to play for China – and also a price.
First of all, he needs a People’s Republic of China passport to be eligible for the China national team in international competitions. But a Hong Kong-born person like Dai can only apply for a HKSAR passport.
Even if Dai can obtain a China passport, which may have been promised by some of those surrounding him when he joined the China Under-21 team training camp, he will have to give up his British passport because China does not recognise dual nationality.
In Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, all naturalised athletes are required to renounce their original nationality if they want to obtain a Hong Kong passport to be eligible to play for the region.
Dai, who moved to England aged 11 with his parents, used a British passport with his boarding pass to Amsterdam when he joined the China training camp.
The British passport allows him to sign professional contracts with English clubs without being registered as an overseas player – which his quality at this stage may not justify.
If he renounces his British passport, then it would be a lot tougher for Dai to get a deal from an English club, which could affect his thinking.
Or maybe Dai sees his long-term club football future in China. He can certainly earn fame and fortune there, especially as he has Hong Kong Chinese status and can be registered as a “home” player without occupying a club’s foreign player quota.
Indeed Dai went for a trial in China when he returned to Hong Kong to settle some personal matters this summer.
He had a brief training stint with Chinese Super League power Guangzhou R&F but nothing materialised. Dai then went back to England, leaving Bury before signing for Oxford United for an undisclosed fee.
Perhaps that explains why Dai went for the training camp with the China Under-21 side in Amsterdam, not only in an attempt to impress new coach Guus Hiddink but also the Chinese football community that he has the potential to play in the CSL.
White will announce his final squad for the EAFF Cup in early November, his first major challenge after arriving in Hong Kong in September.
If the Englishman doesn’t get assurances from Dai that his immediate future is with Hong Kong, then Dai’s name should not be on White’s list.
Interestingly, Dai posted a picture of the 30-member squad list on his Instagram story after the HKFA’s announcement.
At least, it seems, he feels proud to be part of the Hong Kong team, although it’s still unknown if Dai can regain his match fitness in time for the tournament after a such a long break.
But certainly the attacking midfielder won’t be too far away from his first Hong Kong cap if he keeps improving – and wants to play.