The star imports from the Central Coast Mariners are up and running in China with Shanghai SIPG, and already aiming to climb the Chinese Super League table.Exclusive
Bernie Ibini and Daniel McBreen joined Shanghai SIPG at a crucial time, finding the club mid-table with both a relegation struggle and an assault on the top half of the Chinese Super League possible.
Now with games under their belts, the duo are feeling positive and have big aspirations for their respective stays in the CSL, as Shanghai SIPG look to improve on eighth place after 17 games of the 16-team competition.
Ibini, who signed a three-year contract with Shanghai SIPG in June, and McBreen, on loan at the club from the Mariners until October 31, got together to tell Goal.com about their aims in the second half of the Chinese season.
"Obviously for a newly promoted team the main goal is to stay in the league but the boss [Gao Hongbo] is very ambitious, as are the rest of the people involved in the club, and the higher we can finish in the league the better," 36-year-old McBreen said.
"We will definitely try to add something to the side, we are still trying to fit into the system of play they want and that can only come with more games in the CSL," added 20-year-old Ibini.
Available to play following the opening of the Chinese transfer window, Ibini and McBreen's first game was a 3-0 home loss to Beijing Guoan, in which McBreen started and Ibini was used as a substitute.
McBreen admitted it was a tough introduction to the competition.
"I was disappointed in my first game and I had a couple of chances that I should've put away. I managed to get into scoring positions and hopefully that will continue and I can put them in the back of the net," he said.
Elimination on penalties followed in the Chinese FA Cup before this weekend's 3-0 away victory over Guizhou Renhe, a team both players have faced before in the blue and yellow of the Mariners.
McBreen grabbed his first goal for the club with a superbly taken first-half effort and became the first CSL foreign goal-scorer in the short history of Shanghai SIPG.
"Good win tonight. 3-0 with a goal and an assist. That's more like it #3points," McBreen tweeted following the match.
Ibini and McBreen are at different ends of their respective careers, with the former seeing the move as a stepping stone on the road to bigger things, and he claims his new club are willing to support him in realising those objectives.
"That's what I'm planning for, I had spoken to the club as well saying that I have ambitions to go to Europe and they completely understood and would help in the best way they can," Ibini said.
McBreen meanwhile noted that his hugely successful 2012-2013 season with Central Coast Mariners, in which he finished as the league's top scorer with 17 goals, is something he will not be forgetting quickly.
"There have been many highs and lows in my career but my time at the Mariners has definitely been enjoyable. To claim a Premiership, Championship, Golden Boot and Joe Marston Medal in my three years at the club has been wonderful," the English-born, Australian-raised veteran said.
Despite being keen to hold down at place at their new club, the strikers were both full of praise for their Chinese team mates.
"Lu [Wenjun] has a great free-kick and Zhu [Zhengrong] is great on the ball. There is also Wu Lei who is [the club's] top goalscorer and involved in the national set-up," McBreen said.
"Both of them [Zhu Zhengrong and Lu Wenjun] have very good ability so hopefully we can all work together to score some goals," added Ibini.
Shanghai SIPG is home to the Genbao Football Academy, known throughout China for its superb facilities and excellent coach, Gao.
"It is a great set-up with three training pitches, a gym, sauna and hotel-style accommodation. Three meals a day are provided and players are immersed in a full-on football training lifestyle," McBreen said.
The transfer of both strikers came on the back of the Mariners' AFC Champions League campaign, which saw them turn out against Guizhou and reigning CSL champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
While Shanghai SIPG will struggle to march into the ACL themselves this year, the Australian pair can certainly add a dangerous element to worry the best Chinese Super League defences from their performances so far.
Beijing-based Peter Davis watched Liaoning Whowin play Chengdu Blades in 2008 and has been hooked on Chinese football ever since. He is a regular contributor to Wild East Football and can be found on Twitter at @peteydavis