- Yu Hanchao is the second-highest home-grown scorer in the Chinese league
- Under Luiz Felipe Scolari he has excelled coming off the bench
- Hanchao looking to translate his club form to the international stage
China PR’s indifferent attacking form is set to receive a boost for the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Syria, if Yu Hanchao's recent form for Guangzhou Evergrande is any gauge.
The dynamic winger has missed all seven games in the ongoing Third Round due to a serious back injury suffered last August, which resulted in a six-month lay-off. But this season Hanchao has been a revelation, scoring five times and providing three assists in all competitions. His four-goal haul in the Chinese Super League makes him the second highest home-grown goal-scorer trailing only Shanghai SIPG's Wu Lei.
Newly-found super-sub role
While this is indeed an unlikely feat for a player who only recently announced his return, even more impressive is that Hanchao has done so with only limited playing time. He has consistently come off the bench to score goals as Guangzhou maintained their front-runners place in the Chinese Super League and also reach the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
"I didn't think about if this (being deployed as a substitute) is new or not for me," the 30-year-old told FIFA.com. "I go to the field to do the job given to me by our coach (Luiz Felipe Scolari). It seems that his tactics work every time. He is a world-class coach."
New Hanchao may excel in his super-sub role, but he has a long history of excelling as a starting player for both club and country over the years. Hailing from the footballing city of Dalian, Hanchao broke into the national team in 2009 under former coach Gao Hongbo. He made his international debut in 1-1 draw against Germany, before netting twice within a minute in a 3-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen in a friendly. Meanwhile, he was a mainstay with his club Liaoning, with whom he managed 33 goals from 160 appearances.
Hanchao’s playing style raised eyebrows across the country. With exceptional speed and sublime skills, coach Gao lauded him as an attacker that "few defenders could thwart".
Linking with a World Cup-winning mentor
Considering his unstoppable form, the gifted player became among the most sought after in the C League. Heading the list was Marcello Lippi, then the head coach of Guangzhou Evergrande, with the Italian 2006 World Cup-winner securing Hanchao's services in mid-2014.
"He (Lippi) greeted me and my wife with a dinner upon my arrival in Guangzhou," Hanchao recalled. "The coach told me 'you made a mistake by joining Dalian instead of us two years ago, because by doing so you missed winning two league titles and becoming an Asian champion'."
Having spent the first season acclimatising, Hanchao began to gel with the new team with which he won both the domestic league and Asian title in 2015. He began last year by returning to the national team, notably scoring a brace against Bhutan in the second qualifying round for Russia 2018. However, the aforementioned injury saw his run of form brought to a brutal end.
"It seems that each time I was ready to shine for the national team, I was struck by injuries," rued Hanchao. "I missed the 2011 Asian Cup and 2014 World Cup qualifying campaigns due to physical problems. But last year's injury was so severe that I was at the point of calling time [on my career]. I worked so hard and gradually I have come back and got fit to play."
With the Syria test looming large, Hanchao is determined that he won’t let the chance slip away this time around. “It is up to the coach (Lippi) if I will be called up,” he said. “Now I am focusing on my training and playing with the club, and I will do my best to maintain my form. It is always a top honour for a player to represent his country. I will give my all when the opportunity comes.”
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) March 23, 2017