Will the Premier League see another Chinese player?


Criticisms towards the FA of it being “overwhelmingly male and white” have arisen recently after the Football Association’s own chairman Greg Dyke made the comment about its governing body. There is just one woman, Helen Rabbatts, on the board and she is also the only one from an ethnic minority. However, Dyke pointed out that this does not reflect those who play or support the sport in England, especially since all the teams have a growing number of managers and players from different ethnic backgrounds and from outside the UK. Though the main ethnicity that we at Nee Hao see a lack of, is of course, Chinese.

Both Dyke and Rabbatts have spoken out about the lack of diversity and have called for a change to be made as soon as possible: “If we just carry on like this – old, white males – we’re going to be increasingly irrelevant,” said Dyke, while last year Rabbatts said she’d “come to the conclusion the FA’s current position is not sustainable.” The FSF – the Football Supporters Federation – have not directly commented on Dyke’s remarks but do seem to be in agreement when a spokesperson said: “It is important that the FA Council is an influential voice but it is important that it is representative. Football fans are a diverse group and the FA Council should reflect that.” Some have noted however that this is not something that can be controlled or changed from within as many of them are voted in.

We certainly agree with Dyke and Rabbatt’s sentiments and feel the absence of players of Chinese descendants also needs to be changed and could change. To date, since it began in 1992, only five footballers from China have played in Premier League teams: Sun Jihai (2002-08) for Manchester City, Dong Fangzhuo (2006-07) for Manchester United, Li Weifeng (2002-03) and Li Tie (2002-04) for Everton and Zheng Zhi (2006-07) for Charlton Athletic. Li Tie also played for Sheffield United (from 2006-08) though he did not make a top-flight appearance. Sun is considered China’s most popular player because of his international success, having made over 100 appearances with Man City and scored three goals for them.

Sun Jihai is considered China’s most popular football player because of his international success with Man City.
Sun Jihai is considered China’s most popular football player because of his international success with Man City.

Nee Hao has previously expressed its concerns about China’s invisibility on the international football scene. Its national team has only qualified for the FIFA World Cup once when they played (and lost) three games in 2002, however the media’s coverage of the sport is wider than any other in the country. This has left some sports journalists rather baffled; in a country of 1.3 billion people where football is watched and loved by so many (300 million people tuned in to watch their 2002 World Cup matches), they believe the passion for playing football has not increased in the same way the sport’s popularity has, even though it is on the ascent. China are relatively strong competitors in the AFC Asian Cup and they have their own Chinese Super League, similar to our own Premier League – and while a number of players are consistently top scorers, only a handful (those mentioned above) have had international recognition or the chance to play for foreign teams.

Unfortunately though, there has not been a “homegrown” British Chinese player since the late Frank Soo (1914-1991). Soo was of mixed English and Chinese heritage and was the first player of Chinese origin to play in the football league (Stoke, Leicester and Luton teams respectively), as well as the first non-white player to represent England in unofficial wartime matches. Hopefully this is something that will change and there is still the possibility that this generation will see another British Chinese footballer in the Premier League.

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