In the build up to arguably the biggest match of the Chinese Super League so far, Guangzhou Evergrande v Shandong Luneng, Wild East Football writer Peter Davis had the opportunity to speak with Socceroo Ryan McGowan.
Only parts of the interview were used. However, can now bring you the full conversation with some exclusive comment on his time in Scotland as well as a very special first goal for his new CSL side.
Ryan, you seem to have a huge place in your heart for Scottish football, do you hope to get back one day?
Yes, it’s well known that I loved my time in Scotland and at Hearts. It’s something I look back fondly on and really enjoyed. It was a great opportunity for me as a 16-year-old boy to move over from Australia, to come over and grow up in Scotland. It was a major part of my life, not only as a footballer, but for me as a person. I would like to move back to Scotland at some point, but you never know in football. You kind of move contract to contract.
You turned down a move to Rangers at one point, was that a tough decision?
At the time it was a very tough decision. It all happened very quickly. We played Liverpool the night before and it was the last day of the transfer window. I went through to Ally McCoist and explained my decision, and we had a very good chat and he understood my reasons behind it.
It’s quite a big jump from native speaking English countries to China, how have you adapted to the change?
I think I have handled the move quite well. The most difficult stuff has been day to day, like the food and the language barrier, which is very challenging. I have come here with an open mind, I want to not only get a bit of culture, but properly experience a different country.
Are Shandong title contenders in your opinion?
I think it’s a little too early to talk about the title, and we still haven’t played everybody yet, but we’ve got a great start. Teams are going to respect us a little bit more no,w and make it difficult for us, so the onus is on us to come out and play good football and get the results.
Yang Xu and Lu Zheng are a couple examples of the Chinese depth at Shandong Luneng, what were your impressions of Chinese footballers initially?
I have been quietly impressed with the standard of the Chinese players. The two you have mentioned and Han Peng, who has been doing very well scoring a lot of goals, tactically and technically they are very good. The biggest thing they can improve on is their mentality to make sure we win week in week out. Shandong Luneng have some really good Chinese players.
Do you feel Shandong had a slight advantage not being involved in the Asia Champions League?
We are not travelling as much as Guangzhou Evergrande, and so far we have only had one midweek game so far which has helped us to get into a really good training routine. As a footballer though you want to be playing at the highest level and here that’s the Asia Champions League, so we are striving for one of those spots.
You scored a cracking goal against Hangzhou Greentown. I’m sure you want to describe it so tell us about your first goal for Shandong and how that felt?
I was delighted with my first goal for Shandong. I had only scored three goals at Hearts and they were from a combined distance of about six yards, so I was delighted with how it was. I am not sure if I have scored a better goal in my career so far.
Radomir Antic had no prior experience in Asia, but he seems to have tactics spot on at the moment, Lippi v Antic facing off in China is quite a special contest, what are your thoughts?
Antic has managed at some of the biggest clubs in the world, so tactically he knows what he is doing. He knows when to bring players in and at what moments of the game. It’s a great occasion to have such well respected managers around the world contesting such a big game, played in a top of the table clash in China.
Lets talk about Guangzhou Evergrande, have you followed them much this season?
After maybe three or four rounds it was us two at the top, so you are always checking if they have dropped any points for us to get first place. I have been impressed with them, they’ve got some good foreigners. They have spent a lot of money on those foreigners and you get what you pay for in terms of wages. With them playing Central Coast Mariners I took an interest in that game also.
What are your thoughts on the Evergrande squad?
Yeah, we played Guangzhou Evergrande pre-season and drew 3-3 in one of my first games in China. I was very impressed with all of their players. As a team they were very good, and their number five, Zhang Linpeng, stood out. I’m looking forward to playing against them and their strikers, they are the team to test ourselves against, arguably the biggest in China.