The current Chinese Super League season has been highlighted by the quantity of imported players, with no fewer than 80 foreigners plying their trade amongst the nation’s 16 top-flight clubs. Few of them, however, have proved more successful than Nigerian forward Peter Utaka, who has taken no time in making every post a winner in his adopted country.
Since joining newly-promoted Dalian Aerbin at the start of this year, Utaka has racked up 16 goals in 23 appearances which leaves him second in the league's goalscoring chart. Indeed, Utaka has adapted so successfully, that he plans to move his mother to China and also encourage older brother, John, who is currently playing with Montpellier, to join Dalian next season.
"Everything here is enjoyable in China," he told FIFA.com in a recent exclusive interview. "I feel comfortable about the life here and I appreciate the help from everyone around me - my coach, team-mates, supporters etc. I hope my mum will come here to join me next season. As for John, we’ve chatted much about the Chinese league via phone and so it is also possible for him to move here."
The notion of the Utaka siblings forming one of C-League's most formidable attacking line-ups with Aerbin resonates strongly with the younger Utaka. "That would be fantastic," he says. "It is not about the family reunion but goalscoring work. John is a good player and he can prove that with any team."
Like most of the kids in football-mad Nigeria, the two brothers started playing football in the streets of Enugu, a city in the nation’s south-east. “John is two years older than me so he started a bit earlier," he recalled. "Even then he showed he is very talented in the game but when I started playing I quickly caught up with him."
Eye for goal
The two brothers made a smooth transition to Europe, where they soon made a name for themselves. While John spent four seasons with Portsmouth before moving to France’s Ligue 1 last year, Peter made waves in the Danish league with OB Odense, managing an impressive return of 52 goals in 108 appearances.
His goalscoring form didn't go unnoticed by Aerbin's Serbian coach Aleksandar Stanojevic, who secured his move to Dalian. Shouldering the goalscoring responsibility for his ambitious new side, though, provided some early difficulties and Utaka failed to find the back of the net in his first six matches.
The level of competition in the C-League was well beyond my expectations and the players here are of good quality.
"The opening games were hard," said Utaka. "To be honest the level of competition in the C-League was well beyond my expectations and the players here are of good quality. The attack is more pacy here and the defence tough. I had to work hard in both training and playing as I tried to adapt to the style quickly."
The breakthrough finally came when he, firstly earned a penalty, before striking a late equaliser as Aerbin came from two goals down to draw with Guizhou Renhe. From there, the Nigerian has never looked back, adding 15 goals to his tally, including a run of scoring in 10 consecutive fixtures to establish a new C-League record. Notably, he famously set up newly-signed Seydou Keita for his maiden goal, before scoring the match-winner as his side edged Guizhou 2-1 in the return in August.
"Me and Keita have become good friends," he said of the former Barcelona midfielder. "He is indeed one of the league's biggest stars after four years at the Camp Nou but he is quite easy-going and quiet. He provides the team with experience and drive. Our team are becoming stronger with his reinforcement."
With Utaka having now well and truly found his goalscoring touch, the Dalian frontman will be aiming to overhaul Jiangsu Sainty's Cristian Danalache to finish as the league's top-scorer. Trailing the Romanian striker by five goals and with as many matches to play, he downplayed expectations placing the team above individual honours.
"I care only about if we can win matches,” says Utaka. “It would be ideal if my team wins and I score. We are now sitting in sixth and I hope we can finish with a better position. As for me, I hope I can prove my worth with Dalian and hopefully, my club form can earn me a return to the Nigeria national team.”