Li Weifeng: Go West
© Foto-net

Arguably China's proudest moment in European club football came on 11 September 2002 when Southampton entertained Everton in the Premier League. On that day there were two Chinese players in the visitors' starting line-up: Li Tie and Li Weifeng.

Both represented their country with distinction during the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ and the latter was one of Yin Tiesheng's over-age players in the squad for the 2008 Men's Olympic Football Tournament. As a result, Weifeng is the only Chinese player to have represented his country at both events.

The central defender signed for Everton in July 2002 and returned to his homeland in January 2003, citing homesickness and language difficulties as the reason for his premature departure from Merseyside. However, he believes that the experience was extremely beneficial, not only for himself, but the national team too.

English lessons
"Although I was in England for only six months, it really helped my career," he told "The level of the players, the coaches and training facilities are extremely high and I learned a lot while I was there. When I returned to China, I was a better player - there is no question about it.

"The best thing that any young Chinese footballer can do is move abroad and I'd urge them to do so as quickly as possible. Most of our young players do not have enough experience. They've never faced so much pressure before. There were occasions when some of them simply gave up."

The 30-year-old was speaking on the morning after his side's 3-0 defeat to Brazil in Qinhuangdao, still smarting from a tournament that rendered just one point from three games. A total of 270 minutes of football produced just a solitary goal - an 87th minute equaliser against New Zealand.

Time to grow
"I'm not satisfied - far from it, but I think we can move forward from this," he continued. "We have to make a lot of improvements, but we need to be given time.

"Against New Zealand and Belgium we did very well and I think we were unlucky not to win one or both of these matches. But in the third game we came up against Brazil and they are one of the world's best teams. Our task was made even harder considering we had four players out through suspension and so we were well behind their standard.

"However, I have seen signs that the young players are getting better and with the lessons that they have learned at this tournament, I am confident that our national team will become even stronger."