Chinese Super League stars on show but Ryan Giggs highlights struggles for players moving to mainland
The Wales boss was frank during an interview with the South China Morning Post about difficulties European national team managers face in selecting players who ply their trade in China
With the World Cup in full flow, Wales manager Ryan Giggs has pointed out the difficulties for players that move to the Chinese Super League if they still want to be considered for international call ups back in the West.
“I think it’s always helpful for me as a coach in Europe if your players are in Europe,” he told the South China Morning Post in a recent interview while in Hong Kong on a brief trip from his Moscow base, where he is working as a pundit for British television channel ITV.
These are telling words from a man who has only recently come into the role of national team manager.
Giggs was talking about Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid forward whose future has been cast into doubt after he said he would look at his options in the summer in the immediate aftermath of a match-winning performance against Liverpool in the Champions League final last month.
Many have linked the Welsh wizard with a move to the Chinese Super League, and while Giggs would no doubt continue to pick the outstanding player of his generation for international duty, he would clearly prefer that Bale stays in Europe should he leave the Bernabeu this summer.
“It’s always better,” Giggs says of players staying closer to home. Reading between the lines of the squads selected for Russia 2018, it is clearly a sentiment shared by others in the same position.
There are eight players currently plying their trade in China’s top flight that are on show in the World Cup finals, a very reasonable number for a league that is barely two decades old and had to rebrand in 2004 after years of corruption blighting the domestic game.
Those who have been called up are Dalian Yifang’s Portugal central defender Jose Fonte, his teammate Yannick Carrasco for Belgium, Tianjin Quanjian’s Axel Witsel, also of Belgium, Nigerian pair Jon Obi Mikel of Tianjin Teda and Odion Ighalo of Changchun Yatai, Beijing Guoan’s Renato Augusto for Brazil, Guangzhou Evergrande’s South Korean defender Kim Young-gwon, and Argentina’s record cap winner Javier Mascherano of Hebei China Fortune.
Serbia full back Dusko Tosic is soon to join up with his new side Guangzhou R&F but even including him, the nine players on show from the CSL are hardly household names given the investment in star power in China.
Notable by their absence from the last World Cup are players that have joined the Chinese Super League since it gained international headlines for its record spending.
Former Chelsea man Ramires represented the hosts at Brazil 2014 and was one of the first players to make the move to the newly minted mainland league in early 2016 when he signed for Jiangsu Suning.
He’s not played for the Selecao since they crashed out in Belo Horizonte so perhaps his chances were not harmed by moving to China. They certainly were not helped, though.
It’s a similar story for China’s record signing, Oscar. The Shanghai SIPG playmaker has not pulled on a yellow shirt since 2015 while his teammate Hulk has not been selected for Brazil since 2016. Hebei China Fortune’s Hernanes has been in international limbo as long as Ramires.
These are not old players. They opted to move to China in their prime and I am sure that the prospect of financial security outweighs the opportunity to play at another World Cup, as Oscar intimated to Copa90 in an interview that acknowledged memories of World Cups don’t feed your family.
Maybe these players can rest on their laurels but what of players such as Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning and Anthony Modeste at Tianjin Quanjian?
Neither has made an appearance for Brazil or France and you have to feel they can never do that while playing in China despite being tipped for the top of the European game before their arrival on the mainland.
What of former Golden Boy Alex Pato, Modeste’s clubmate? Here was a player who turned out for Brazil as a teen but has not featured for them since 2013.
His performances in the CSL and the AFC Champions League have earned rave reviews but the 28-year-old is unlikely to earn another cap while he plays out here.
It’s a similar story for former Argentina international Ezequiel Lavezzi, the stand-out star of last season for Hebei China Fortune after SIPG’s Hulk. His last appearance for the Albiceleste was at the Copa America Centenario in 2016, months after his move to China.
Giggs, who started his career in international management with a 6-0 win over China in the China Cup in Nanning was sanguine about Chinese football: “It’s not really my concern.”
An understandable sentiment but it is interesting in this first World Cup since CSL clubs started recruiting top-class international footballers that such a move might end the “international” element of that description. What price national glory when Chinese chequebooks start swinging?