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Mason Trafford on Canada, Arie Schans and the harsh reality of China League One

Guizhou Zhicheng are not a team that gets much coverage in English, something their Canadian international defender Mason Trafford knows all too well. Earlier this year, the 26 year old started 2013 with the greatest of honours, his first international cap.

He finished his contract at IFK Mariehamn in Finland and trained for a short time with Seattle Sounders, before the chance to play in China presented itself. Potentially costing him further international appearances in the short term, Trafford knew the potential risk involved as he explained to Wild East Football writer Peter Davis.

Interviewed in part for, Mason Trafford’s full and very detailed conversation has him talking about Canada, what influenced his move to China, the struggles of Guizhou Zhicheng so far and the managerial change that could well rescue their season.

Zhicheng appointed Arie Schans as manager in a bid to preserve their China League One status

Zhicheng appointed Arie Schans as manager in a bid to preserve their China League One status

Guizhou Zhicheng have an impressive new boss, Arie Schans who was previously involved in the Chinese national team, will he be the one to keep Zhicheng up?

The goal is just to win games and stay up here next year, I think he will bring a different mindset to the Chinese players and the management of this team. Being a Dutch guy, he is totally different and brings a lot of new ideas that the players and management haven’t seen before. It will be a steep learning curve to get used to that.

Hopefully he can do it, he doesn’t have a lot of time, just a few months until the seasons over. I have had a week of training with Arie Schans and one game which we tied away from home. From what I have seen he seems like a good coach, we have had some enjoyable training sessions so far.

After getting promoted last year, the goal must simply be to stay up to make it a successful season?

Like any team there was a bit of excitement that we could win the league and get up into the Chinese Super League but those dreams were put into reality after the first few games when we weren’t doing so well and definitely now after 12 games without a win, the goal is 100% to stay in the league, I know that’s why the coaching change was made.

China League One has more quality than some may think with the likes of ex-Manchester United man Dong Fangzhou, African Cup of Nations winner Christopher Katongo and CSL winner Ryan Griffiths to name a few, what are your thoughts on the quality of the league?

China League One has definitely been a learning experience for me, it’s very different from any of the European leagues. Every team besides one of two at the top, particularly Henan Construction, are more or less the same and the games come down to one or two mistakes or a moment of brilliance from one of the players.

It’s overall a good league I think, every game is a grind and a battle. Every team seems to be set up as a solid side, you never turn up to an easy game in this league.

Every CL1 game "a grind and a battle" says Trafford

Every CL1 game “a grind and a battle” says Trafford

How are your Chinese teammates doing? China League Two is of a much lower quality so it must be a big step up for them as players?

My team is obviously struggling as you can see in the table and from the results, we already had a change of coach and it hasn’t been an easy first 12 games for us. Most of the team came up and they didn’t make a ton of changes to the Chinese guys just one or two players and the three foreigners.

It’s definitely been a steep learning curve for some of the guys, no one gives you anything in this league and some of the players have struggled to realize that. Everyone has realized that it is a different level of professionalism from League Two. We have had the coaching change now and he has told us that it is not good enough to just showing up on a Sunday.

What are the younger prospects like at Zhicheng? Do you have any involvement in that?

Our team has about 35 players, 18 first team players and then there’s quite a few younger guys that have been carried over from China League Two. As far as I know there are a couple of players that have garnered interest from Chinese Super League teams but the club is holding out for the moment and not let go of them.

For the most part I am not involved much with them as we train in separate places. They normally come on the road and play against the other team’s reserves also. As far as I know there are some younger talented players that are to come through to the first team.

Charles Gbeke, Gordon Chin and Rumba Munthali from Canada and Lyle Martin from America played for a few sides but historically there isn’t a big footballing relationship between China and North America, do you think the fact football is developing in both places is an encouraging factor?

I am good friends with Lyle Martin and we spoke a bit before I came over here. I also spoke with Charles Gbeke and Gordon Chin about the Chinese league. I think there will always be players coming over here, the money is good in China compared to other leagues and it’s not easy to get an opportunity.

Football is getting bigger in America and here, you look at the Super League and there are some massive players coming over. Chinese are always looking for the best and brightest to bring over and add to their league. Some people just like the adventure of coming over to a completely different culture, it’s certainly one of the reasons I came over and I think there will be more players every year coming over here.

Trafford continues to follow former club Vancouver Whitecaps from China

Trafford continues to follow former club Vancouver Whitecaps from China

Quality of information on the league is something that is always mentioned to me by foreign players here, it is a basic problem that will no doubt be addressed for Chinese football to grow, what are your thoughts on that?

My agent and family have brought this up and no one seems to know what is going on with my team and what reliable information is and what is not. The language barrier is so big and it’s not easy to get to see the websites.

It would be really cool if more information did exist and it makes things easier if you want to move to other clubs. You are not just playing in the dark and it makes it difficult for other teams to see your progress.

Can you explain what it was like to play for Canada this year?

Playing for Canada was a dream come true for me, it’s every players dream to play for the national team and those ten days were a really good experience playing two big teams. To get that first tap was a bit surreal, it was amazing. It was something I will never forget, I will be ready again whenever they call. It was a personal experience I will never forget.

Do you think further international call ups are hurt by playing in China’s second tier?

For sure my chances for further national team call ups are affected being in the national side in China, it goes hand in hand with the coverage not being so good, people don’t know if you are playing well and it’s not traditionally a powerful league in world football.

Of course the national team set up looks at that and thinks they should not call up a guy in China League One or a guy playing in Europe in a high enough level. I hope that I can get called up again from here but I do know that the reality is that it’s going to be difficult. It’s definitely something I knew and recognized when I signed here, I figured that this could make things difficult for my Canadian future. At the time it was an opportunity I wanted to take and it’s now up to the national set up to see if they want to call me up.

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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