Amid the backlash unleashed by China’s meek defeats to Thailand and Uzbekistan, it may seem folly to search for a silver lining in results that ultimately flattered the hosts.
Even more perverse perhaps, is this writer’s inclination to highlight Wei Shihao for anything other than his horror tackle on Otabek Shukurov. And yet, across the two China Cup performances, Wei’s drive and sense of purpose should offer a sliver of hope for Guozu fanatics.
At the risk of stretching the perverse to the absurd, Wei’s aggressive first half tackle has become a focal point for Chinese media precisely because it distracts from addressing 180 minutes of hapless football and the shambolic state of the Chinese Football Association (CFA).
It’s far simpler to castigate the error of one individual than to methodically critique the structural flaws of an entire organisation. Sure, the Guangzhou Evergrande winger made a rash and harmful miscalculation, but hasn’t the CFA been making those for years?
If, as certain media outlets claim, Wei has ‘no excuse’ for his error on the basis of being a top-level professional, what rationale should one use to explain away the continued shortcomings of CFA professionals?
The China Cup should have been something of a coming-out party for Wei. Despite being earmarked from an early age on the basis of China youth team performances full of flair and goals, he has endured a peripatetic and anticlimactic career thus far.
While Wei’s prolonged period of development in Portugal was undoubtedly positive, playing abroad served to heighten expectations. Upon returning to China, he offered only flickers of his potential in stints at Shanghai SIPG and Beijing Guoan. Until now that is.
Having watched from the sidelines throughout China’s mediocre run to the AFC Asian Cup quarterfinals in January, Wei started on right wing in Fabio Cannavaro’s first two games in charge.
They weren’t life affirming performances, but his willingness to drive forward and shoot – revolutionary, right? – proved one of the few bright spots in what were otherwise a bleak pair of games from a Chinese perspective.
Given the Anhui-native turns twenty-four in April, he can no longer be considered a young prospect. His somewhat surprising winter switch to Guangzhou Evergrande was an acknowledgement that his potential will be best realized in an environment explicitly focused on developing China’s national team.
Irrespective of one’s opinion about Guangzhou’s attempts to prolong its monopoly of high-caliber Chinese players and entrench itself within the CFA, the move was a no-brainer from Wei’s perspective.
The through line from club to country, most obviously presented in the appointment of Cannavaro, means Wei will likely spend the pivotal years of his career playing with the same players in a familiar system. This level of stability already seems to be bearing fruit.
When interviewed on the eve the 2019 AFC Cup, Wei spoke gushingly about the development of players from neighboring East Asian countries such as Japan’s Takumi Minamino and South Korea’s Hwang Hee-chan.
While Wei is some distance from reaching the heights of the aforementioned Red Bull Salzburg youngsters, once the hubbub surrounding his tackle settles down, it will be obvious that his pathway forward is at last clear.
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