Lang Zheng is the Chinese football equivalent of Gus Triandos. If you don’t know who that is, you either don’t go very deep in knowledge of 1970s Baltimore Orioles players (very forgivable) and/or you’re not a fan of the HBO television series “The Wire” (somewhat unforgivable). In any case, watch this short video via youtube, or if you’re in China without a VPN, go to your local DVD seller, buy The Wire, enjoy a marathon watch session, and come back and thank me.
I have Lang on the mind because today is his birthday and also because Guoan just played Henan and memories of a few years ago are coming back. Every time I see the picture above it stirs up emotions, it was shortly after halftime at Hanghai, the Guoan fans were under siege in the away end and someone who had media access to the field tried to tear down a Royal Army banner. Lang was on the bench that night, as was the case during most of the Jaime Pacheco era despite the two sharing a birthday, one they’d never celebrate together as shortly after this match Pacheco would loan him to Nanchang. While all the other players were going through their stretches, Lang saw what was happening and came over to save the banner, physically moving the journalist (or “journalist”) away from the banner.
That solidified the big man as a north end hero. If that wasn’t enough, he is one of the only players who, no matter the result, will come to the vocal supporters in the north end (the “ultras” if you will) and offer his heartfelt thanks to the fans, even if such behavior is discouraged by more senior members of the team.
Lang will never be the best player on the pitch, he won’t be the most skilled guy out there, he’s tall, he’s also slow, but every time he goes out on the pitch he gives his all, wearing his heart on his sleeve (or whatever other cliche you want to use). His height can make him seem kind of dopey, made worse by some bad hair choices at times. What he is is what makes him unique. He is one of the few in China that understands how lucky he is to be playing the game he loves for money, and understands how important the supporters are to that.
He is a terrace legend, the kind of player who reminds you it’s not all about goals, stats, trophies, but how you play the game. Other teams have guys like him, guys who deserve to be celebrated, but we in Beijing have Lang.
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