Guangzhou Evergrande and China national team centre-back Feng Xiaoting has given an interview to Chinese sports website Sohu discussing many aspects of his career thus far. A former star of the China youth team setup, Feng is regarded as one of the country’s finest players of recent years, and spent time in Korea before returning to China to play with Evergrande.
Below is a translation of much of the extensive interview. The full article can be found here in Chinese.
Sohu: You went abroad relatively early. What do you think are the biggest difficulties for Chinese players going abroad now?
Feng Xiaoting: There are many difficulties, one of which is race. You’re not of the same race and your education has been different from a young age. You think in a different way.
Sohu: How do you regard your time at Jeonbuk Motors?
Feng: The first year I went to Daegu, before going to Jeonbuk in the second year. I went to Korea in order to go to Europe. My agent at the time said that Korea would be a springboard, with more people watching the K League at that time. I didn’t know anything of Daegu before I went there, and after going I felt that the team was very average. It is a lesser side. After i went there, my performances were particularly good and I ended up at Jeonbuk.
Sohu: Talk a bit about how you ended up at Evergrande. Who contacted you? How did they persuade you to come to Guangzhou?
Feng: When I went to Korea I wanted to use it as a springboard to go to Europe. Evergrande contacted me early in my second year, but at the time I didn’t want to return to China. However, in the second half of the year, my wife fell pregnant. Having a child changed my way of thinking, as I didn’t want too many instabilities. After, Evergrande contacted me again and the deal was done.
Sohu: Although you are a centre-back, you are actually quite skilful. When i was speaking with a Korean agent before, he said the same thing. Could you play as an attacking midfielder?
Feng: The Korean agent still wants me to go back to Korea. In the future I will either stay at Evergrande, go to Europe, or move to a team closer to home (Dalian), while a return to Korea is very possible. My child is about to start kindergarten so I need to find a secure place. I have never played attacking midfield, although I played as a striker when I was a striker. When I had just arrived in Korea, the coach of Jeonbuk Motors Choi Kang-hee wanted to play me as a defensive midfielder but I told him that my main position is as a centre back. That’s my best position.
Sohu: Are you considering going abroad to play now?
Feng: The Chinese Super League and Asian Champions League are exceptionally important to Evergrande this year. I am only thinking of this, nothing else.
Sohu: It’s very hot in Guangzhou now, have you got used to it? What are your regular hobbies?
Feng: I’m pretty well adapted. When I had just arrived it wasn’t good, but, after three years, I am used to it. When I have free time, I just go out and walk around because we have more free time in the evening. We train after lunch, rest in the daytime and then only at night have time to go out and eat with friends, chat and walk around. I will play snooker, or sometimes play video games with teammates.
Sohu: You have had many partners in the team. Zheng Zhi, Zhang Linpeng, Kim Young-Gwon and Qin Sheng have all been your partner, and there are many changes of formations. Among all this, do you need to be particularly adaptable?
Feng: Everyone’s specific skills are a bit different, though I can’t clearly describe specific details. No matter who is your partner, you know subconsciously what to do and what not to do. As a partner, I am most often paired with Kim Young-Gwon and we have built an understanding. In every game, Lippi changes between three and four-man backlines, and we often these changes.
Sohu: You are now an essential player for the national team. How do you balance club and country interests?
Feng: There is no way to balance it. The club need to win every game, especially because Evergrande are the best team in the league and the target is to be champion. The national team also need to win every game, as it’s a question of national honour and there are also points at stake. So, we must win every game. When the schedule is intense, it just needs the players to make their own adjustments.
Sohu: How do you see the problems of “false injuries”?
Feng: There is no such thing as false injuries. When you are really injured, if you want to play you just can’t play. If there is an encounter when you’re injured, then you do an examination with the national team doctor. If there is a game ten days later, and in three days you are ok, and then are able to train for two days, then you are able to play. If there is a game in ten days and you will only be better in 11 days, then you go back to the club. The club doctor will have the final say.
Sohu: You had a bright start to your football career. You were the youngest captain in China’s professional leagues, the captain of the China national youth teams and were named as “one to watch” by the foreign media. How were your thoughts and emotions at that time?
Feng: I was very proud of this at the time. After all, at the World Youth Championship I was picked as one to watch by a French media outlet and FIFA. I was quite proud at the time. Because of these honours, I think that my potential at that time was quite high. My coach at the time, Eckhard Krautzun, also said I had a lot of potential. I felt good back then.
Sohu: Talk about Shide. When you left, did you also say you would return to Shide if you came back to China?
Feng: I actually did say that. At the time when I wanted to come back, I still had a year left on my Jeonbuk contract. I spoke to Shide’s chairman and said, it only needs you to pay the transfer fee and I will come back. However, Shide didn’t want to spend the money and Evergrande were willing to spend money to buy me. Shide didn’t want to spend a penny. Now I still have a contract, so I can’t just do what I want.
Sohu: At that time, did any foreign teams come in for you?
Feng: When I was at Shide, both Schalke and another top side came in for me. There were two clubs from the top five European leagues who wanted me, and there was also a second tier side where Krautzun was that really wanted me to go to Europe. Krautzun said: “I know Chinese players don’t like to go abroad, but I really want you to come”. I said that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to go, but it was because there are other physical reasons that limit players from going abroad.
Sohu: How do you see Shide now? Do you still have feelings for the club?
Feng: Now the team is no more. I think that I still have feelings, both of great pity and great memories. I went from the fourth team to the first team, with affection for all of them. When I was at Dalian, 99 percent of the fans wouldn’t criticise me. They were very forgiving. I am a child in their eyes, and they are watching me grow step-by-step right up to today.