Capped once by Canada at the beginning of 2013, Mason Trafford ended the Chinese season without a club after Guizhou Zhicheng suffered relegation to a league where foreign players are not permitted.
On the last day of the Chinese League One, Zhicheng drew 1-1 away with Tianjin Songjiang to confirm their relegation to China League Two. As if going down was not harsh enough, Trafford, Honduras international Carlo Costly and Bosnian forward Ivan Bozic were forced to depart the club due to foreigner ban in the third tier of Chinese football – a rule which incidentally Shanghai Shenhua fell foul of, forced to select a Chinese-only line-up in their pathetic CFA cup capitulation to CL2 side Dali Ruilong earlier this year. Chongqing F.C., relegated along with Guizhou Zhicheg, lost former Middlesbrough and New Zealand forward Chris Killen and Brazilian striker Nei for the same reason.
Traffford, 27, spoke to Wild East Football earlier this season about the tough start to China League One, and it was to prove costly in the end for Zhicheng. Speaking with Wild Est Football writer Peter Davis again, Trafford gives a very open insight on the true realities of relegation.
Mason, relegation must feel terrible, how were Guizhou Zhicheng affected by relegation to the Chinese third tier?
When we already knew that our chances were not good going into the game with Tianjin Songjiang so you are already preparing for it a little. It’s never a good feeling as a professional footballer to go down a league and from a personal standpoint of course it adds a complication to your life but that’s football and that’s life.
It must have felt like you were on the right track too?
It definitely felt like we were on the right track, I can’t tell you how positive I was feeling. With the quality the team was showing with two months left we had grown a lot and I was definitely thinking we would stay in the league, it came as a shock that we got relegated. Relegation was really hard, it was the first time in my career actually that I’ve been relegated.
We made it difficult ourselves by tying a few games when we should have seen out the win, it’s disappointing because you run through those games thinking what could have happened, even now you still think about it. A big blow was losing Ivan Bozic half way through the season away in the BIT game, if we had him and Carlo Costly up front it would have been very difficult for opposing players to deal with us in the second half of the season.
In the end it’s a combination of a lack of experience and unluckiness. Every season you have those would have, should have, could have games and it’s never nice to dwell on those but this season more than any other there are a number of games to look back on that are still painful now like Guangdong Sunray Cave or Chongqing F.C. at home when we are comfortable and go onto drop points in critical games, we made it difficult for ourselves in the end.
It must be all the more painful that the three foreign players including yourself are immediately out of work?
You feel like you let the team down, the owner and the fans. It’s hard to take because you are thinking that if you stay in the league there will be a contract again next season and it just makes everything more simple as you can just re-sign.
We have many Chinese who have been with the club for a number of years, local guys and there were some tears shed, it’s a long season and everybody works hard. But with the rules in China there are no foreigners in the third division and now the foreign players all have to look elsewhere but I’m used to that by now, looking for that next step be it in China or elsewhere.
Bringing in Carlo Costly who has qualified for the World Cup with Honduras certainly gave you a boost, 8 goals in his short spell was certainly impressive, was he a different class?
I think bringing in a player like Carlo Costly is always going to boost, he can get goals and create goals on his own and the guys respond to that, everybody gets a bit of a lift when someone is scoring regularly.
All the guys knew his resume and what he had done and that’s a bit of a boost for any team. He’s a different class for sure, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s got some speed and proved that with his goalscoring here but unfortunately it wasn’t enough to keep us out of the relegation zone. He as well as Andy Nagelein helped us improve from the start of the season and they both scored some crucial goals.
In the end it came down to Chinese quality and sadly it appeared to be something Zhicheng were lacking is that right?
The Chinese players came a long way this year actually, the start of the year they were struggling to deal with the change from the third division to the second but I have to give a lot of the guys credit, we came a long way. You could see that in their play and opposing players were saying that we were more difficult to play against the second time around.
One thing we did lack was depth, one or two suspensions and injuries really affected our team and bringing in less experienced players to replace the key ones without the time to gel didn’t help. In the end it’s a shame we got relegated because they understood the league and it would have been interesting to see them again, add a few guys with more experience and it could have been a very different season, we could have ended up a top half team.
What next for you? You must feel like you have unfinished business in China?
I’m still reflecting on the season with Guizhou Zhicheng and feel I can do a good job in the Chinese league, I know the strengths and weaknesses of a lot of sides as well as the quality required. I enjoyed my time in China and feel I have unfinished business there, again I wish we had stayed in the league and improved together.
We’ll see, if something else comes up in China I would be interested and it is being worked on right now so hopefully you get to see me again next season in the Chinese league. If not I’ll look elsewhere be it Europe or somewhere else in Asia, I’m open to everything and I’m enjoying my football and developing as a person, every door is open for me right now.
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