Guizhou Renhe and Yapp Hung Fai, a top young goalkeeper from Hong Kong, have given the CFA headaches as they try to work out an agreement where the 23 year old would join the southwest China club.
Since the establishment of Jia-A (the CSL’s precursor) the rules have stated that no foreign goalkeepers were allowed as a protection to help guarantee local keepers could develop. However, due to China’s political attitudes, the CFA counts Taiwanese and Hong Kong players as domestic players under the transfer rules, despite them counting as foreign players in Asian Champions League matches (as those are governed by the AFC’s rules).
Yapp has been a standout for his club, South China, as well as becoming a regular for the Hong Kong national side. Guizhou, looking for a solid, young keeper on the cheap, were quickly attracted to Yapp, though now they may be thinking he’s more headache than he’s worth. The club have been persuing him for around a month, but the deal has stalled as the CSL has rejected the deal, saying that Yapp is a “foreign keeper.”
The young keeper responded very quickly, with pictures plastered all over the media showing him holding a hand made sign saying “I’m Chinese, not a foreigner.” It would seem that he should be, his teammate, Lee Chi Ho, just moved to Beijing Guoan as a domestic transfer to the capital club. Up until now, the issue has never been a problem, but now the CFA and CSL face a rule that they may need to rewrite.
This isn’t the first time the league’s political stance on this issue has faced challenges. Last year, the move of naturalized Hong Kong citizen Godfred Karikari (a Ghanian by birth) took a long time of high level negotiations before it was finally approved as a domestic transfer. Situations like Karikari are going to come up even more in the future, as African players in Hong Kong start to realize that gaining Hong Kong citizenship is a quick way to earning a move to a mainland club, along with the money that comes with it. Fellow Ghanian, 34 year old Wisdom Fofo Agbo has used this method to gain a move to China League One side Harbin Yiteng this season.
As Chinese sides look for ways to deal with the domestic transfer bubble market, eyes have turned to Hong Kong, but now the CFA has to choose to make up the rules as they go along or extend the Hong Kong as domestic player beyond what they want it to mean. Applying politics to football is a quick way to earn yourself a headache and it will now be interesting how the CFA chooses to deal with it.