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Cheng: Naturalized players a revolution for China

For many years Chinese media, including WEF, have been speculating about naturalized players, but this season, when it finally happens, it will represent a revolution in the CSL and the Chinese national team.

The biggest issue, though, is whether it’s a good thing and how these players will be received by the media and fans at large. Beijing Guoan initially announced they would try and have a number of naturalized players toward the end of last season. With the transfer tax and ceilings on domestic transfers, it appeared like the club had found a market loophole. Nothing was heard for awhile until this January, the club announced Nico Yennaris and John Hou Saeter would be joining the club.

Of the pair, Yennaris is likely the better known name due to his time at Arsenal, though he rarely featured. The born and raised Brit has been a solid performer for Brentford in recent years and at 25 is still relatively young. At 21, the Norwegian Hou Saeter has shown potential and even has a few seasons as a U23 player.’ Both have connections to China through their mothers, but neither have previously shown an interest in representing their motherland.

Not to be outdone, Guangzhou Evergrande quickly announced the Peruvian-Chinese 21 year old Roberto Siucho would be naturalized and join the club, though he won’t be registered as a local player until next year. Other clubs, including Shanghai Shenhua, are planning on getting into the act as well.

There’s nothing wrong with this effort by clubs (surely with the support of the CFA) to find and naturalize ethnic Chinese talent from around the world. Pretty much everywhere else in the world it has become fairly common, indeed China’s a bit late to the game.

The big concern for me is that this becomes a new quick fix for the CFA. After what happened at the Asian Cup and the need for a rebuild of the national team, naturalized players become the simple solution. This shouldn’t be something that papers over the cracks and allows the CFA to ignore the real problems.

At the same time, how will it be treated by the media, who have derisively commented about other countries’ naturalized or immigrant players? So far it appears the response has been fairly positive and focused on these players love of their motherland. The 2019 China Cup starts next month and would be the first opportunity for Yennaris and Hou Saeter to appear for China if chosen by the currently unknown manager.

I’d imagine they will get the benefit of the doubt to begin with but it will be similar to a lot of other countries, the players will be celebrated as part of the “new China” when they do well and attacked for taking places from “real Chinese” when they don’t. China lacks the left wing/right wing political scene that we see in the west and while I don’t expect open rumblings in the media or from politicians, there will surely be rumblings on the terraces and the internet.

Before we even talk about their impact on the pitch, as the trailblazers it will be important for Yennaris and Hou Saeter to win people over off the pitch.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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