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Hao Junmin: Another overseas Chinese failure?

Hao's German life not so 'hao'.If you look up the Chinese National Team on Wikipedia, your eyebrows may raise when you look at the ‘Current squad’ section. Chinese players are virtually extinct in Europe!* Previously Hao Junmin was a national team regular, but this month he left the Bundesliga’s Schalke 04 to join the Chinese Super League’s Shandong Luneng.

According to Chinese media, Hao was approached by England’s Arsenal, Liverpool, and Wigan, France’s Lyon, Russia’s Terek Grozny, China’s Hangzhou Greentown and his former club Tianjin Teda. He ultimately chose Shandong Luneng because he wants consistent playing time. He signed a three-year deal, and Shandong paid 110 000 Euros for his service.

This transfer raised much outcry from the Chinese fans because Hao is considered one of China’s leading players. Hao’s passing skill is top-notch, and his free-kick prowess is his trademark.

(Asian Cup 2011: China vs. Uzbekistan. Hao’s stunning free-kick, starting at 2:22)

(Friendly match: China vs. Tajikistan. Another trademark free-kick from Hao, starting at 0:55)

Hao was a household name at Tianjin TEDA. His skills were noticed by European scouts, and he was invited for a trial in Chelsea FC. However, nothing much happened after the trial (some reports said Chelsea made Hao Junmin an offer, but Tianjin TEDA rejected). Hao’s ability did not remain unnoticed. On May 29, 2009, China hosted a friendly against Germany, and within 5 minutes Hao scored. The game ended in a 1-1 draw, and Hao’s performance caught the attention of Felix Magath, the Schalke coach of that time.

(Friendly match: China vs. Germany. Hao Junmin scored rightaway)

During the first season, Hao broke into the first-team and played several games. However, things did not go too well when Hao was asked to play as a defender instead of his natural attacking role. Later Magath was sacked, the new coach Ralf Rangnick gave Hao one game to prove himself. Hao, again, was asked to play as a defender. His performance was criticized by the German media, and he was consistently linked with a move away from the club. Although Hao became the first Chinese to win the German Cup, his time was soon up.

Chinese players who made a name for themselves overseas are few and far between. Zhou Haibin at PSV, Li Weifeng at Everton, Du Wei at Celtic, Ma Mingyu at Perugia, and now Hao Junmin at Schalke, all of endured bad experiences. When will we see players of Sun Jihai or Fan Zhiyi’s caliber raise the profile of Chinese football by playing successfully overseas again?

 * Disclaimer: I did not include Zhang Chengdong of Beira-Mar, Shao Jiayi of MSV Duisburg, Zhang Jiaqi of Le Mans, and etc. because they have not represented the national team recently. I have referenced the China vs. Laos roster for this article.

Ever since witnessing Yang Chen’s near goal opportunity in the game of China vs. Turkey in World Cup 2002 from his bed at 3am, Smari has developed an avid interest in following the Chinese national team. He had seen how the Chinese team was worshiped as gods during the World Cup 2002 and Asian Cup 2004, and how they are treated like shit since the failure to qualify for the World Cup 2006. Smari joined Wild East Football as a contributor because he realized there is a need for the world to know about Chinese football. There is an almost bare minimum amount of English language forums or websites that strictly talk about Chinese football, the Chinese Super League, the Chinese national team, etc. The world needs to know that Chinese football is not about Shaolin football, corruption, diving, and cheating; we are about playing with our heart to bring smiles to our already embarrassed fans. Smari hopes he would be able to witness the improvement of Chinese football and spend all his life savings to watch Guojiadui’s second World Cup appearance at whatever venue, even a warzone. Apart from writing/translating Chinese football news, Smari loves playing mahjang, imitating how Samri Nasri dribbles in the Emirates pitch, watching how Adam Johnson terrorizes his rivals, learning bar tending to make up his reason for consistent drunkenness, being artistically weird by shooting abstract photos, and defeating boringism in his mundane life. He also loves traveling, and he hopes to have his own apartment that is filled with national team jerseys from every country he visited. Smari often attributes his depression to the current dire state of Chinese football, let’s hope he won’t turn insane soon.

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