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Li Shuai: China’s next international hopeful?

It has been a rough month for the fans of oversea Chinese footballers. Tan Long, formerly of the Vancouver Whitecaps, had a bust-up with the coach and was later transferred to DC United. To make it even worst, Tan was recently sent on loan to the Richmond Kickers, a team in the third-tier of the American football system. Huang Bowen, formerly of Jeonbuk Motors, was recruited by Chinese heavyweight Guangzhou Evergrande. Wen Shuo, of CD Mafra, and Hu Jun, of Varzim, have returned to China. Right now, only Zhang Chengdong, of Portugal’s Beira-Mar, is carrying the Chinese flag overseas.

Despite the decrease in the number of oversea Chinese footballers, Li Shuai, an 18 year-old midfielder from Guizhou Renhe has recently joined FC Porto. This makes him the fifth Chinese player to play in the Portuguese top flight, after Yu Dabao, Zhang Chengdong, Wang Gang, and Dong Fangzhuo.

Li Shuai is known to be an influential midfielder with a tough attitude. He consistently played for Shaanxi Laochenggen, a team in China’s third tier league that acts as Guizhou Renhe’s U-19 team. Despite not featuring in Guizhou Renhe’s first team, Gao Hongbo, Renhe’s coach, mentioned that he would have given Li first team opportunities during the second half of the CSL season if Li didn’t leave for FC Porto. Gao commented that Li Shuai’s talents and attitudes would fit the European system.

Li was discovered by RAMP Management Company (who engineered Yu Hai’s move to Vitesse and Zhuang Jiajie’s loan to FC Dallas’ youth side) when he was playing for a Chinese youth team during the Aegon Future Cup last year. He later went for a trial at FC Porto in November and caught the eye of the club’s U19 coach. Because Li wasn’t 18 years old at the time, he was not offered a contract. With his 18th birthday just past, Li Shuai will be sent on loan to FC Porto for one year. He will start out with the reserve side, though potentially could join the first team if he impresses.

If we look at the history of Chinese players in Portugal’s top flight, Dong Fangzhuo only made a handful of appearances and scored one goal for Portimonese. He later gave up and signed for Armenia’s FC Mika. On the other hand, Zhang Chengdong is continuing his career in Portugal and became one of the most valuable players for Beira-Mar. Zhang is the first Chinese player to score in the Portuguese Superliga. There’s hope that Li won’t be a Dong style “flop” in Portugal.

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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