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.
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