The arrival of one Dario Leonardo Conca at Guangzhou airport last July saw the Argentinian immediately ensconced by a thronging media pack; the likes of which had never previously been seen for an imported player in China PR.
‘C-League's highest-profile foreign player’ was a recurring theme in much of the media coverage surrounding the 28-year-old former River Plate and Vasco da Gama midfielder. So why did the former Fluminense man - a two-time Brazilian Player of the Year - head for the Far East to join newly-promoted Guangzhou Evergrande?
"When Guangzhou came to me with this offer, I knew little about China and C-League," Conca told FIFA.com. "But during our negotiation I have learned this is a fast-developing club and it was their footballing passion, ambitions and persistent interest in me that helped me make the decision to move. With the club's strong financial support and professional management, I am confident about my future here."
Having achieved so much with Fluminense, including helping the Rio de Janeiro side to the championship last year, the expectations for Conca in China were understandably high. And the diminutive playmaker wasted little time in making his presence felt, incredibly scoring with just his second touch on debut against Nanchang Hengyuan, before scoring a brace and setting up another two in a 4-0 rout of Qingdao Jonoon in his second home appearance.
"It is good that I have scored goals with my new team," he went on, citing his opening performances with Guangzhou. "But my team-mates Cleo and Muriqui are dominating the C-League scoring chart with ten and nine goals respectively so I must work harder to catch up with them."
“To be honest the environment here is rather different from that in Brazil so it is a challenge for me to get acclimatised quickly. But I have learned as many as six foreigners have earned the Player of the Year awards in China so I think I can follow suit as long as I continue my good work.”
Inspired by the Conca-led Brazilian trio, Guangzhou have dominated throughout this season. Unbeaten with 14 wins and 7 draws this season, they are runaway leaders of the C-League, ten points clear of second-placed Beijing Guoan. With nine games left, Conca is understandably confident they can make history by becoming the first Chinese team to win the national title as a newly-promoted club.
"The club's motto, as set forth by President Xu Jiayin, is 'always vie to be the best'," said Conca. "We have a formidable line-up including a host of Chinese national team players such as Zheng Zhi, Feng Xiaoting and Gao Lin, who have all contributed to the team's progress. I have no doubt that we can win the league despite our status as a promoted side."
With the top three C-League sides to represent China at next year's AFC Champions League, along with the FA Cup winners, Guangzhou have all but secured their maiden appearance in the continental showpiece. Conca, who helped Fluminense to the 2008 Copa Libertadores final, has set his sights on winning his first Asian silverware with Guangzhou. “The club’s blueprint is to win the Asian championship within the next five years and I am hoping I can play a key part in that,” he said.
The easy-going Conca, whose only international experience was with Argentina U-20 team in 2002, adopted a solemn tone when asked of his international ambitions. "It is a top honour to represent the country for anyone and I am hoping to realise my wish to one day play for Argentina,” he said. “The only way to realize my dream is to remain down-to-earth and do my job as well as possible.”