Centre back Ransford Addo arrived in China over three years ago, tasked with aiding an ambitious Shanghai East Asia (now SIPG FC) side in their quest for promotion to the highest level of Chinese professional football – the Chinese Super League. Having succeeded in doing just that in his first season with the club, the defender, who holds Belgian and Ghanaian dual nationality, enjoyed two more years of sustained improvement with the Shanghai side, before moving on to pastures new at the end of the 2014 campaign; signing for China League One outfit, Wuhan Zall.
The defender turned down offers from several CSL clubs to join the Hubei side, who themselves are now seeking a return to the big time, having been relegated in 2013. correspondent, Andy Strong, caught up with the popular defender to find out how he was settling in to his new surroundings ahead of the new China League One season.
First of all, how are you finding life in Wuhan? How does the lifestyle differ from that in Shanghai?
Yeah Wuhan is good! I’ve been into the city – it’s not like Shanghai but I’m here for football, and the training facilities here are very good; the players, the trainers and all the guys here are good, so I’m enjoying myself. I haven’t had too much of a chance to see the city as we’ve been busy with the pre-season training camp, but when I have time I’m looking forward to finding out more about the city. I’ll miss the fans in Shanghai a lot, but this is a new start for me
And how about your new club, Wuhan Zall? What are your first impressions of the side and how does the setup there compare to what you’re used to?
Well my first impression was that this is a good club – they were in the top league only two years ago and there is a big ambition to get the club back there. The players are all ambitious too and this is really why I joined this club – the ambition is really there to go up and improve. I was kind of surprised, as when I came here I saw that the training sessions were at a really high level, and the coaches want to play in a good, attacking style, much like in Shanghai. The focus is not on just playing long balls, the team want to keep the ball and so I’m happy to have joined a club like this that plays with a good style because I don’t have to adapt too much to the team’s style of play or formation.
As you said, you’re aiming for promotion with your new side this year. Having been there and done it already whilst at Shanghai, do you think that will give you and your new team an edge over your league rivals?
Yeah, I think so, because most of the teams I played against the last time I was in this league are still there so that experience should help. There should be the same teams fighting for the promotion places but we’ll jus take it game by game.
It’s been two years since you last played in China League One, have you been keeping up with the league throughout your time playing in the CSL? What do you think of the competition this year?
This year, I know a lot of teams in the league have also invested a lot of money bringing in good foreign players, so the standard of the league has definitely improved since I was last here. So it’s not going to be an easy competition – across Chinese football as a whole, the level is getting higher and higher every year – but our minimum goal is still to achieve promotion.
Now going back to when you first signed for Shanghai East Asia back in 2012 was there anything in particular that brought you to China in the first place? What was the main draw for you coming over here?
Well at that time I’d played in Europe for over 12 years already, so I said, “OK, I want to change something.” I’d also heard about the Chinese league and how it was developing and growing, so I thought I would like to try this league and give myself this new experience and a change of lifestyle. Knowing that China’s league was developing, I wanted to help it grow into something as big as the Japanese league. That was the idea that I had in my mind, and I really wanted to be part of that.
So is there any particular moment that stands out as a highlight of your three years with Shanghai East Asia?
Well for me, there were a lot of good moments, and the thing that stands out for me is the guys there. They were all young players, and were so together; all like brothers. It was a special group full of fantastic guys, and one I will never forget.
On the flipside, is there anything you would prefer to forget from your time in Shanghai?
Well there was one particular game [in 2012 against current side and then-championship rivals, Wuhan Zall], which we really shouldn’t have lost. Afterwards, everybody was down and the atmosphere was so bad. It was the year we gained promotion; and the game should have seen us seal the league title. After we lost, everybody just thought it would be too difficult to get back into top spot. This was probably the lowest point, because at that time, we thought everything was lost.
Who would you say is the best player you’ve come up against so far during your time in China?
It’s got to be Elkeson at Evergrande. For me he’s the best foreign player in the league. He has everything – he has the technique, he’s fast – he is the complete fit as a striker.
And how about those you have played alongside?
I’d have to say Cai Huikang. He’s a very good, ambitious player who has a very big future, much like Wu Lei – I’d say they can be the future of Chinese football. They will go far in their careers, and they should help raise the level of the China team.
Are you still in contact with many of your old colleagues in Shanghai?
Yeah, I keep in touch with most of the players, we send each other messages and talk all the time and even the translator, I have a good relationship with him. When we came to Shanghai (for the pre-season friendly against Shanghai Shenhua), they came to the hotel and we talked for a little while, so yeah I still have a good relationship with them.
So will you be keeping up with your old team’s progress this year?
Yeah of course, if the game is on TV then I’ll certainly be watching, and if I have the time to come to Shanghai then I’ll be watching the game and cheering the side on.
And just how well do you think Shanghai can do this year? Do you think they can really challenge Guangzhou Evergrande and make a realistic shot for the top?
Yeah with the investment in the team they are trying to challenge Evergrande, but I think they need time – I don’t think in just one season you can change everything and win the league. You also need to remember it is not just Evergrande; there are many teams in the league who have invested a lot of big money to challenge at the top. You have Beijing, Shandong, Jiangsu – they have invested a lot of money. Even Shenhua have improved a lot; everybody is getting ready to challenge them – the league this year is going to be very tough.
Amongst all that money being spent, perhaps the biggest signing was that of Dario Conca, brought back to the CSL by your former club. Having played against him during his time in Guangzhou, what was your impression of him, and do think he can make a difference for his new side this year?
Well he was very good at Evergrande, but he also had a lot of good players around him. But one man cannot make all the difference; football is a team sport. I think if he is to have a good effect, he will have to be a part of the group and the players will need to have a good friendship, so that everyone can get along together and achieve the collective goals of the team.
Shanghai’s squad is notably comprised of young, local talent. With the likes of the aforementioned Wu Lei and Cai Huikang having risen to prominence over the last two years, are there any other youngsters we should look out for in this coming season?
Yes I think this season I’ll be looking at Yan Junling, the goalkeeper, and across the whole team squad are many young guys who have a great future, so I would expect some of them to get some game time in the league. With the experience of the senior players who have come through, I will be looking at them to make a good impression on those younger players.
How long do you plan on staying in China? Could you see yourself staying here for the remainder of your career?
Well you know, in football, you never know what the future will bring, but for me, I’d like to stay a long time in China. This is my fourth year here now and I think I’ve really adapted well to the Chinese culture and I have a lot of Chinese friends who I talk with a lot. So even if I were to move to a different club in another city in China, I know the characters of the people and the culture, so it shouldn’t be a problem. My Chinese is getting better and better too!
So finally, have you made any plans for after you decide to hang up your boots? Would you be tempted into stepping into a coaching or managerial role at any point?
Yeah, of course! After my playing career, I will definitely stick with football – maybe coaching or management or whatever role I can find – there are many, many ways to get involved in football. So I’d love to stay involved in any way I can.