By Peter Davis
Readers of this column should be able to guess the answer to the following question - Which Asian countries teams are best represented at the 2013 African Cup of Nations? It is indeed China, with five players plying their trade in the Super League. Mali’s Keita, Zambia’s Katongo, Chansa and Chamanga, and Ivory Coast’s Drogba (who until this week belonged to Shanghai Shenhua) are all pursuing glory in South Africa.
The huge ties between Africa and China have resulted in a massive monetary boom for both parties, but It isn’t only money that ties the two; their blossoming footballing relationship could prove incredibly fruitful in the near future.
|The CSL boasts 10 African players, including the likes of Yakubu at Guangzhou R&F and Freddie Kanoute at Beijing Guoan|
The CSL’s African ties go deeper than the Cup of Nations; ten African players are currently registered in the league, including the likes of Yakubu at Guangzhou R&F and Freddie Kanoute at Beijing Guoan. Relegated Henan Construction boast BBC African Player of the Year Christopher Katongo, but Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Zambia are all represented in China’s top tier.
Winding the clock back slightly to August 15th 2012, a very friendly match was played out between China and Ghana. The match ended in a 1-1 draw and it was by no means a classic. Yet the the BBC reported the following day on a ‘mutual development deal’ between the two countries, with the Ghanaian FA agreeing to assist with youth development in China in exchange for help in women’s football from the former Women’s World Cup finalists. Domestically, Ghana’s Accra Hearts of Oak and Beijing Guoan also began to cooperate as partner teams, pledging to assist in the development of football in both countries.
Several African players have made a huge impact on the CSL; Yakubu had nine goals in his 14 appearances last season for R&F, but less famous players such as James Chamanga should be acknowledged for their contributions to Chinese football. Chamanga has over 100 CSL appearances to his name and was recently snapped up by Liaoning Whowin after leaving the unstable Dalian Shide.
|"What I have found from the people in China is love, happiness, sincerity and warmth"
"Money cannot buy you happiness" Yakubu told the BBC after his move to Guangzhou, "What I have found from the people in China is love, happiness, sincerity and warmth."
The amount of African players in the Chinese top flight is ever-changing too; at the time of writing Ivory Coast striker Davy Angan has been unveiled at Hangzhou Greentown from Molde FK and ex-Hull City man Kamil Zayatte of Guinea is on trial at Liaoning Whowin. John Utaka, brother of Dalian Aerbin’s Peter Utaka, is linked with Beijing Guoan. Elsewhere, Mozambique international Simão may leave Shandong Luneng shortly and Nigerian CSL veteran Gabriel Melkam is looking for a new club following his release from Qingdao Jonoon.
Yet 2013 has also seen the departure of one of Africa’s most famous stars, with Didier Drogba leaving Shenhua for Galatasaray almost as quickly as he arrived to wild enthusiasm from local supporters. Henan’s Isaac Chansa’s future remains uncertain after his team was relegated; "We have discussed it with the club and they want everyone to stay," he told kickoff.com, "But that will obviously happen maybe after [Afcon]."
|[Karikari] obtained a Hong Kong ID card in 2011 and officially changed nationality a year later following 10 years in Hong Kong|
An interesting take on the whole Africa-China relationship comes in the way of Ghanaian-born Hong Kong international Godfred Karikari, who plays alongside Katongo and Chansa at Henan. The striker obtained a Hong Kong ID card in 2011 and officially changed nationality a year later following 10 years in Hong Kong. Importantly, Karikari is no longer considered a foreign player for roster purposes.
“I wrote to the Ghanese government, pressuring them to give me the papers as soon as possible,” the 27-year-old told the South China Morning Post. “It’s my dream to play for Hong Kong at an international level.”
While we shouldn’t expect Yakubu or Keita to be applying for a Chinese passport anytime soon, stories of the growing bonds between China and Africa could very lead to a very powerful footballing relationship, and the current African imports have unquestionably assisted in putting Chinese football on the map. The African Cup of Nations is the continent’s biggest showcase, and looking to the future we may well see many more of the players starring in this tournament plying their trade in a Chinese club’s shirt.
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