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WEF Exclusive Interview: Leandro Netto

Following their China League One win in 2006, Henan Jianye or Construction settled well in the Chinese Super League and achieved a fantastic third place in 2009 and a respectable eighth in 2010. However, 2012 saw the clubs relegation from the top flight and hope now turns to their impressive squad to immediately bounce back. Wild East Football once again goes deep into Chinese football chatting with Jianye’s Brazilian fan favorite Leandro Netto.

Netto is in good company in Zhengzhou with China internationals Lu Feng and Zhao Peng, promising youngsters Bi Jinhao and Ma Chongchong and the unusual Ghanaian born Hong Kong international Godfred Karikari. Even more impressive, the Jianye squad includes Zambian African Cup of Nations winners Isaac Chansa and Chris Katongo, the latter of which is up for the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year award!

Despite the great looking team, the Zhengzhou side conceded the most goals in the league and more worryingly scored second least making easily the worst goal difference. The final nail in the coffin though was losing seven of their last ten games.

However, things are looking brighter and preparations for next season are well under way as former China international Tang Yaodong has re-signed and is back at the helm of the club as they bid for an immediate return to the Chinese Super League.

Leandro Netto

Talking to us from Brazil, it’s time to talk relegation, learning Chinese, playing in Syria and working hard for promotion with the 33 year old who hopes for a quick return to the CSL…

Netto, thanks for your time and joining , how are you enjoying the end of season break?

I already returned to training here in Brazil. I’m still negotiating my contract for next season, so I have no date yet to return to training in China though. The end of last season was bad for me; unfortunately I had a lesion and tried to return to the squad before I was ready which injured me for another three months so I couldn’t help the team in the fight against relegation.

The plight of Henan Jianye has been compared to the shocking relegation of Gamba Osaka in Japan in the last week and it must have been hard for you to experience relegation from the sidelines, can you explain what it was like?

It was terrible, especially for me because I couldn’t help the team fight against relegation. However, it gave me more strength and desire to stay with Henan and help the team return the CSL.

How hard do you think it will be to come back up again?

I believe that the biggest steps to return to the CSL are a coach who knows the second division, one that identifies with players at the club, and most importantly we need players who love the club!

You have been at Henan for three seasons, how have you found Zhengzhou and China in general?

My first year was a little complicated because of culture shock, the language and food were just totally different but me and my family adapted quickly and today we feel like China is our second home. My daughter even speaks Chinese with a Zhengzhou accent! Unfortunately, I have still not learned enough to communicate but I have a great relationship with all the Chinese people that I have had the opportunity to meet.

You have played in Brazil (Corinthians and Atlético Paranaense among others), Spain (Deportivo de La Coruña), Syria (Al-Karamah), Portugal (Gil Vicente among others), Serbia (OFK Beograd) and of course China, how does China differ to those leagues?

The main difference is the pre-season in China is very long so preparation is a little harder. On the field though, it’s all the same.

You experienced great success in Brazil winning the Campeonato Brasiliense and a Syria Premier League and Cup double. In your first season in China, Henan took 3rd place and qualified for the Asia Champions League, can you explain the environment at the club at that time?

We had a great coach who made a family environment, where there was mutual respect between everyone. He could get the best from each player.

With a record of 37 goals in 101 appearances, roughly a rate of a goal every two and a half games, you have an impressive record from your time with Jianye. You played superbly recently and got two goals against Guizhou Renhe, what’s your personal reaction to performances like that?

Netto applauds the Jianye faithful

My thoughts are always the same, give my best for the team to win, and not focus on individual performances.

Finally, what lessons have you learned during your time in China?

The main things I have learned in particular are to respect Chinese football and how to live with cultural differences. I was very happy in my four seasons in Zhengzhou with Henan Jianye. Both myself and my family were welcomed with open arms but if it taught me anything it’s that I still have much to learn.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the fans who have always supported me and cheered me on in a return to Chinese football!

You can follow Netto on his personal Weibo account here

Pete is from Sheffield, England and came to China in 2008 initially living in Shenyang where he witnessed his first CSL game, Liaoning Whowin v Chengdu Blades. Pete is a fanatic Sheffield Wednesday fan but has picked up football allegiances from various trips, Galatasary in Turkey, Piacenza in Italy and Muangthong United in Thailand. In early 2009 he moved to Beijing and after a brief time started attending Guoan games regularly. Pete graduated in Journalism in the UK and has written for several educational publications on Chinese education for his day job as well as Chinese football for WEF which he wishes was more developed but avidly follows the Imperial Guards on their quest for CSL supremacy regardless.

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