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Feng Ren Liang – a new hope?

As we all know, Chinese football hasn’t had an awful lot to shout about for quite some time. But during the international break , which saw the Chinese Super League and many domestic leagues all over the world take a breather last weekend to allow international friendlies and continental cup qualifiers take place, a new star just might have stepped on to the Chinese football rostrum.

Feng Ren Liang (冯仁亮) first caught the eye of your correspondent, and those of everyone else present one April evening in Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai. The occasion was Shanghai Shenhua’s first home game of the season against Hangzhou Greentown. The 21-year-old winger, making his home debut, stood out that day, not only for scoring a well-placed long range goal, but also for his deft first touch, pace and excellent close control. In a league lacking quality, one might argue that even players of modest flair might stand out. But it was clear Feng was at least a cut above the average Chinese Chinese Super League player.

Joining Shenhua during the close season from 3rd tier Tianjin Locomotive, he’s already cemented his place in Shenhua’s first team, and it was no surprise to see him start his first game for the Chinese national team on Tuesday night against Paraguay, in a match which ended 1-1. The video clip doesn’t show all that much of Feng in action but it does show his pinpoint cross for former Shanghai Shenhua striker Gao Lin to head in the equalizer,  some neat footwork, and Feng testing the Paraguayan keeper with a shot from outside the box. It also features an interview with Feng himself, plus Chinese NT national coach Gao Hongbo who says Feng “has brought Chinese football some new hope”. Feng made his international debut as a substitute in China’s 1-1 draw with Bahrain last month.

It is of course early days for Feng. Your correspondent was tempted to highlight him earlier in the season, but thought better of it – false dawns and Shanghai Shenhua go together like Laurel and Hardy. However, with him elevated to the Chinese national team after playing just half a season of professional football, the future is looking bright for Feng, and possibly for Chinese football, if they can produce more players of his quality. Your correspondent doesn’t like to make predictions, but a successful career at a big club in Europe beckons for Feng if he can sustain this level of progression for the next season or two. Time will tell. But he is one of the most exciting prospects to come out of China in quite some time. It would probably be in his best interests to spend another couple of seasons at Shenhua to get more pro experience, right now he is a little raw and his crossing and shooting could use a little tightening up.

Feng also appeared for China in last Friday’s 2-0 defeat at home to west Asian powerhouse Iran, coming off the bench to earn his second cap. Most Chinese fans seemed to regard the defeat as yet another shambolic result. Seeing as it was at home, it’s hard to argue. But it wasn’t a disaster. Anyway, after Tuesday night’s draw with Paraguay and Feng’s sparkling display, the Chinese football world is looking up again, for the time being at least, building on victories over South Korea (for the first time ever) and France earlier this year.

Feng Ren Liang – remember the name.

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.

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