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Beijing Guoan 20 Years, 20 Moments #4: Branko Jelic’s China adventure

Beijing Guoan is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year and we’re here to celebrate 20 of the most important moments over the past 20 years. Not all of these are positive, but all of them shaped the history of the club and the league. This time around the focus turns to the big Serb who was arguably Guoan’s greatest ever foreigner.

Branko Jelic joined Beijing Guoan midway through the 2004 season and like most foreigners at that time, he was a total unknown. He’d never played outside of his native Serbia before, though his resume included a stint at giants Red Star Belgrade.

During his short time with the club in ’04, Jelic knocked in a number of goals and gave fans plenty to hope for the next season. However it is unlikely that many Guoan fans could imagine what was to come, with Jelic scoring almost at will, setting a prodigious pace.

That year, Jelic would score more goals than anyone had ever done previously in Chinese football, with 21 goals in only 26 games. He blew away the competition, the closest person to him was Dalian’s Zou Jie with 15 goals. Jelic’s total meant that beyond winning the Golden Boot, he also was awarded the CFA Player of the Year award, only the second Guoan player to ever recieve it (the first being Jorge Luis Campos in ’97).

Unfortunately for Guoan fans, even with Jelic scoring left and right, it didn’t help bring the club closer to winning a title. After starting out strong, Guoan fell off the pace late in the season and finished the year in a disappointing 6th place, a whopping 15 points from the eventual champions, Dalian Shide.

Branko was attracted by a big money offer from Chinese Super League newboys Xiamen Lanshi in 2006 and left the capital, however he wasn’t to find his form in the seaside town, only scoring nine goals in two seasons. He was also part of a very disfunctional Xiamen club in 2007, struggling with salary issues and other headaches, the club all but gave up and got relegated at the end of the season.

Perhaps after a recommendation from Beijinger Shao Jiayi, Energie Cottbus came calling in 2008, a major step up, joining the Bundesliga. He would spend a season there, before heading to Australia’s A-League and ultimately retiring down under. He may not be held in reverance at any of his other former clubs, but in Beijing, “Yeliqi” is still remembered as a goal scoring hero and exactly what a club is looking for out of a foreign player.

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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