Wild East Football is always trying to bring our readers new and interesting content and interviews with the stars of the CSL. It can be hard, but we scored a big one this time as we had the chance to talk with Cristian Danalache. The Romanian striker joined Jiangsu in March 2011 and while the club and player struggled at first, Dragan Okuka was brought in as manager and things blossomed as the team went on a long home winning streak and Danalache banged in the goals. In 2012, the club shocked everyone by finishing second while Danalache took home the golden boot, scoring 23 goals. He’s also been one of the most open players in the CSL, regularly using Sina Weibo to communicate directly with his fans and even respond to them.
Wild East Football: Thank you for joining us Cristian and many congratulations on the CSL golden boot and player of the year in 2012. How does this achievement compare with what you’ve done in your career before you came to China?
Cristian Danalache: Thank you, I am very happy and proud of these two awards. In Romania I won champion of the league once, which also an important trophy for me, but I think these awards I earned in China are more important, especially because there were so many big players in the league last year.
: How did you end up in China? How did your arrival in Nanjing compare to what you were expecting?
Danalache: I had one offer from China 5-6 years ago and I was afraid to take that step. Now I am very happy that I am here and that I chose this team. I was very close to ending up in Ukraine and at the last moment the option of China came about. Together with my wife we decided to go to China and in the end it was the best option for me and my family.
: You didn’t get off to the best start when you first arrived in China, what caused your struggles and what got you on the right track?
Danalache: Yes,this is true, it’s hard to excel from the beginning in a foreigner country, especially for a European player in Asia, but after I adapted things started to improve every game.
: Jiangsu were around bottom when Dragan Okuka arrived in 2011, then the club started rocketing up the table and this past season Jiangsu was in the title race until almost the very end, what is Okuka’s secret?
Danalache: It’s better to ask him, he knows the best. What I can tell you is that he take his job seriously, he’s always thinking about football and he wants his side to play every game to win and to score as many goals as possible.
: You have experienced a bit of a career renaissance in China, scoring goals at an unbelievable rate, what brought that on?
Danalache: I don’t know…every time I try to make training and to play to maximum capacity, sometimes I succeed some time not but I try to score and win every game. Also it was important for me that after we change the coach we also change the system and we start to play with two real strikers and this help me a lot.
: Who is the toughest team you faced in China? Do any defenders stick out? What about an away venue?
Danalache: The league is very strong,so we had a lot of strong games against very good teams but if I must choose a team I will choose Guangzhou Everegrande…also I played against very good Chinese defenders but i enjoyed games more when scored we won.
: You came so close to breaking the CSL single season goalscoring record last year. This year every defender in the league will be focused on you, can do even better this season?
Danalache: I don’t think like this. For me it’s very important to get back 100% healthy and to start to play in each game and at the end of this year or maybe next year, I really believe it’s possible that Sainty will win at least one trophy. Also, for me it’s important to improve my game this year. If I will score as many goals again is not very important, it’ s more important that the team win games and maybe trophies.
: How are you recovering from the injury at the end of the season? Will you be ready for the first match of the season?
Dănălache and Eleílson Celebrating
Danalache: At the moment the recovery is going well. My knee is getting better and I hope in the end everything will be okay. From what my doctors and the therapist is telling me, it will be impossible to play in the first 2-3 league games. After that, I don’t know but I am very optimistic about my recovery and I believe that I will come back faster than everybody thinks.
: How excited are you about competing in the Asian Champions League this upcoming season? What do you think of Sainty’s chances and will it be hard competing on three fronts (ACL, CSL, and CFA Cup)?
Danalache: The Asian Champions League is very strong so for sure it will be a real joy to play these games. It’s the first time for our team to take part in this competition but I believe we have the power to go further than the group stage. I know from my experience in Romania when we played in the Europa Cup or Champions League that it will be very hard to play on three fronts and for sure it will be hard to
be on top in all competitions but also it’s really nice to play so many important games.
: What was the hardest adjustment on and off the field in China?
Danalache: In the beginning everything was new to me — the culture, the mentality, the food, but now after 2 years in China I am used to life here and Nanjing feels like my second home.
: You’re Romanian, most of your teammates are Chinese, the club has a Brazilian, a Belarusian, the manager’s Serbian, how is it dealing with everyone in the locker room? Does it feel isolating at times being a foreigner on the club?
Danalache: We also have Serbian and Uzbeki players, so we speak a lot of languages in the locker room. The atmosphere is very good, we joke with each other, whether you’re a Chinese player or a foreign player, it’s impossible to feel isolated in our locker room.
: How is your relationship with the Sainty fans? Did you ever have any funny experiences with them?
Danalache: My relationship with them is fantastic. They are crazy about football and about our team, they always come out in large numbers for our matches and create an amazing atmosphere. They were close to me after the injury, all the time sending me messages to encourage me and I try every week to speak with them and to tell them how my recovery is going. Also, I want to say thank you to them for their messages and to say I am waiting to come back and play again in front of them.
: So who was the first one of the foreign teammates to get a motor scooter? Do you all cruise around Nanjing on those?
Sainty’s No 10 points the way ahead
Danalache: Sasa (the other striker) [editor’s note: Aleksandar Jevtic] and I first bought the motor scooters and after 3-4 days Moura bought one as well. It’s easier for us to get to training and to get around a little in the city.
: We know Jiangsu Sainty’s player wage budget is much less than teams like Evergrande and Shenhua. How do you feel about this as a player and what was Sainty’s secret to pushing Evergrande so close in the CSL title despite having much less money?
Danalache: Yes, this is true but we really don’t think about this. We just try to do our jobs and what the coach wants from us and we are happy that last year we played well and we finished in the best position in the club’s history.
: What do you think the CSL as a league needs to do most to improve, and what do you think CSL clubs in general need to do to improve?
Danalache: It’s hard for me to say anything about this. For sure they know more than me about this and what they need to do to improve, the most important thing is that they really try to improve and you can see this very obviously every year.
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.