Goal Asia’s Peter Davis looks at the phenomenal presence of Brazilian players in Chinese football and why they may be a key to future success
It is common knowledge that Brazilian footballers are known for their flair, style, speed and skill and in Chinese football they are often transfer targets for those exact reasons. I looked into the links that African football has to Chinese football not so long ago but the effect of one specific nationality's impact on the Chinese Super League is something that certainly deserves attention.
Chinese clubs are allowed five foreign players and all but two sides have filled that quota, meaning there are 78 registered foreign players in the CSL. Exactly 33 of those 78 players are from South American countries - a massive 42 percent. More tellingly, however, is that 23 of those 33 are from Brazil, representing 29 percent of the foreign players in the CSL.
Chinese football and Brazil were first famously associated when Brazilian World Cup winner Marcio Santos had an unfortunately short one-game spell with Shandong Luneng in 2001. However, things have improved over time, with Eber Luís Cucchi winning the golden boot for his 14 goals for Tianjin Teda in the 2008 season and the talismanic Muriqui following suit in 2011 for Guangzhou Evergrande.
It appears as if 2013 may be the year of the Brazilian for Chinese football. After only two CSL games, seven Brazilians have found themselves on the scoresheet, with three for Edu at Liaoning Whowin, two for Bruno Meneghel at Qingdao Jonoon and one each for Isac [Changchun Yatai], Muriqui, Rafael Coelho [Guangzhou R&F] and Gustavo [Qingdao Jonoon].
Topping them all is Elkeson at Guangzhou Evergrande, who has already notched five goals in his two CSL appearances, including a hat trick against Jiangsu Sainty. Marcelo Lippi is opting to play Elkeson as a striker, which is turning out to be a master stoke based on his first two matches.
Another impressive recent addition is Kieza at Shanghai Shenxin, who has been a free scorer over the past two years with Nautico in his homeland, scoring goals aplently to help them reach and remain in the top flight. Shenxin, interestingly, fill all four of their foreign slots with Brazilians - the fifth slot must be from the Asia regions.
With all this in mind, it cannot be argued that Chinese clubs do not hold Brazilians in a high regard. But why they are a key to success is something that is best discussed with a Brazilian footballer with several years in China to his resume.
Leandro Netto played for several sides throughout the world before moving to Henan Construction in 2009. He was released at the end of last season but found himself returning to Chinese football with Hunan Billows in China League One, and he spoke about Brazilian links to China with Goal Asia to clarify why this particular relationship was so successful.
Why do you think there are so many Brazilian players Chinese football?
I think Brazilians are very adaptable and both the Brazilians and Chinese like to play a more attacking style of football than a defensive one, so I think that helps us when we are here in China trying to improve the game. There is the obvious factor of money but it is important to get past that and enjoy football here.
You left Henan Construction after they were relegated to China League One. What made you want to come back to Chinese football? I'm very well adapted to Chinese football and I have many Chinese fans that go beyond the shirt that I'm wearing. My daughter really misses China too so I was glad to have her support.
How would you describe your time at Henan Construction? They were wonderful years. I believe that I made a name for myself and I am now part of the clubs history and even more so now not being in the team, the Jianye fans will be forever in my heart.
What impact do you think you can make at Hunan Billows? My goal is always to be the champion and to try to help my teammates in any way possible with our main goal, [and reach] promotion to the Chinese Super League.
Your relationship with Chinese fans is excellent, what do you do outside of football to grow your name? My relationship with the fans comes from mutual respect and affection. I try to give them my attention whenever possible, with receptivity. My return to Chinese football is a credit to them, who support me and they always called for my return when I left.
Brazilians seem as much a part of Chinese football at the moment as the Chinese players are themselves, and they are held in such high esteem that it is difficult to see this very powerful link ending soon. Along the way, if Chinese players can learn from their Brazilian colleagues and opposition then the benefits may be invaluable for the future of football in China.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