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The (Seemingly) Neverending Saga of Yang Zhi

Today was the last day to submit final rosters to the AFC for this year’s Asian Champions League squads and in a surprise, Beijing Guoan’s squad didn’t include Yang Zhi.  Yang, ‘s Chinese Player of the Year, played in every one of Guoan’s matches last season, in fact the number of matches he hasn’t played in during the past three years can be counted on one hand, so the discovery that he wasn’t on the roster was a major shock.

For Guoan fans, this is confirmation of their worst nightmares.  During the last offseason, there were a number of rumors about Yang returning home to Guangzhou to play for Evergrande.  While that didn’t happen, immediately after the 2011 season came to an end, the rumors of Yang’s imminent departure started up again, this time going to Chinese Super League newboys Guangzhou Fuli.

The Yang transfer rumor soap opera didn’t end there.  It was made even more complex by the outdated and backward Chinese “hukou” (household registration) system, which ties Chinese citizens to their home cities when it comes to health care, government benefits, and schooling.  The hukou system influences many aspects of Chinese life, but where it impacts both a migrant worker and a football superstar is when it comes to their children, limiting access to schools outside the location of the parents’ hukou.  Neither Yang or his wife are Beijing citizens and thus their daughter, who is reaching grade school age would not be able to attend public school in Beijing.

Getting around this “Only in the Chinese Super League” situation, in late December/early January Guoan offered Yang a multiyear contract that would make him one of (if not) the highest paid players on the team and the deal would include a Beijing hukou, allowing him to keep his family in the capital with him.  Yang’s name was then out of the transfer news for a few weeks and it looked like he was set to remain the Men in Green’s main man for years to come.

That no longer seems to be the case.  Yang suffered a shoulder injury during a Hong Kong-Guangzhou tournament in the offseason and is likely to be out for the first month or two of the season.  Reports are that Beijing was rankled by Yang’s decision and the injury strained the relationship further.  The club started preparing for Yang’s departure by purchasing Nanchang’s keeper Bai Xiaolei.

At the start of the close season, manager Jaime Pacheco’s stance was “anybody but Yang Zhi”, the club’s massive price tag, rumored to be around RMB20 million ($3 million), means that it is unlikely Yang will go anywhere during this transfer window. There was brief talk that he could move to another Asian or even European club, but neither seem realistic. Instead, it is most likely that Yang will spend the season in Beijing, then leave on a free at the end of the 2012 season.

For Guoan fans, its a jarring situation, their most rock solid player is now an uncertainty, though after dealing with this for two season, fans are just hoping for a conclusion, one way or the other.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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