Overseas moves lift Chinese hopes
So significant was the Chinese fans' disappointment at seeing their team crash out of Asia's qualifying campaign for the FIFA World Cup™ that supporters self-mockingly claimed to be the world's best fans without a team. However, with several of star players making high-profile international moves recently, China's vast army of supporters are ensured some sort of outlet for their pent-up football enthusiasm.
The hottest member of the fan's watch list is former China captain Li Weifeng, who has secured a lucrative move to Korea Republic giants Suwon Bluewings. His national team-mate Feng Xiaoting has also been hitting headlines after being signed by K-league side Daegu FC, while talented midfielder Zhou Haibin is being closely watched at his new club PSV Eindhoven.
'Big Head' aims high
It is not the first time that Li Weifeng has plied his trade with an overseas club. After steering China to their first FIFA World Cup finals at Korea/Japan 2002, he moved to English Premiership side Everton only to struggle in his attempts to secure a permanent place in the Toffees' starting line-up.
Despite the brief stay with the club, Li, affectionately dubbed 'Big Head' by fans and media alike, spoke of his days at Everton positively. "The level of the players, the coaches and training facilities is extremely high and I learned a lot while I was there," he recalled after figuring with China's Olympic side at Beijing 2008 as one of the three overage players.
As an established national star, Li has remained a cornerstone of the China squad with 105 international appearances over the past decade. Although could have chosen to spend the twilight of his playing career in the relatively comfortable environs of the Chinese Super League, he jumped at the chance of signing with the Bluewings, following the withdrawal of Wuhan from the local competition.
With his immense experience, the 30-year-old Li had few problems in settling into his new team. He quickly made a name for himself as he played a key defensive role as the Bluewings won the recent Pan-Pacific championship ahead of LA Galaxy, Japan's Oita Trinita and China's Shandong Luneng Taishan helping to secure his long-term future with the four-time Korean champions.
"I am going to stay here for at least two years. I am sure I can learn a great deal with Bluewings, and that under coach Cha Bum-Kun we will have a fruitful season ahead," he exclusively told FIFA.com. "I had a hard time last year when Chinese football was faced with many difficulties, but joining the Bluewings was a timely boost for me and I am happy to be here with the kind of high-quality club that I have been looking for."
Haibin goes Dutch
While both Li and Feng Xiaoting seem set to debut for their new K-League club's when the season commences early next month, it is a different story for Zhou Haibin, who is striving hard for a berth in the PSV Eindhoven side. Despite this fact, Zhou, who broke into the international scene in 2004 under then China coach Arie Haan, is confident he will learn quickly in the Netherlands.
"Eindhoven is a strong team and the players here are of a high level. I must first concentrate on training and improving before earning a place in the first team," he said. "My position requires both offensive and defensive skills and this makes it even harder to vie for a starting place in the team. I know it takes time to develop but I will do my best."