With clubs including Liverpool, Portsmouth and Fulham heading to China to take part in pre-season friendlies, Pies looks at players who have moved in the opposite direction to ply their trade in England and Scotland. It is pretty easy to pick out those who had the ability to make their mark in England and those who had the ability to shift a few replica shirts.
1 Sun Jihai
Arguably the most successful Chinese player to date. He initially played for Crystal Palace in 1998. When he returned to England with Manchester City from Dalian Shide in 2002 he cost Â£2 million. He became the first Chinese Premier League goalscorer when he netted against Everton in October that year. Still with City, he is of course the subject of the stroke of terrace genius: “Singing aye aye yippy Sun Jihai, aye aye Sun Jihai, singing aye aye yippy, his dad owns a chippy, aye aye yippy Sun Jihai.”
2 Fan Zhiyi
Joined Palace at the same time as Sun Jihai, but made a bigger initial impact as he became a bit of a cult hero at Selhurst Park. In 2001, despite reported interest from Liverpool, the centre-back moved north of the border to Dundee. He spent brief spells with Gillingham and Cardiff City. Mutterings of his rumoured involvement in the Far East match-fixing scam which saw the floodlights go off at several English games tarnished his reputation a little. He returned to his homeland and was last seen coaching Shanghai Shenhua.
3 Li Tie
Immediately dismissed as a blatant marketing ploy – which was not completely unfounded given that the deal was arranged by Everton’s new sponsors Keijan – Li Tie’s arrival at Goodison Park in 2002 was an unexpected success story. The Toffees made the deal a permanent one after Li Tie’s outstanding debut season, but injuries and loss of form restricted his progress. He was released last summer and joined Sheffield United, but did not feature at all in the Blades’ short-lived Premiership stay as he again had injury problems. Now aged 29, he has claimed he is committed to breaking into United’s first-team.
4 Dong Fangzhuo
Dong signed for Manchester United in January 2004 in a deal which could rise to Â£3.5 million depending on appearances. He has spent most of his time as a United player on loan at feeder club Royal Antwerp though because of work permit problems (ie he didn’t have one). He officially became part of United’s first-team squad in January 2007. The 22-year-old is currently with the Red Devils in the Far East and is expected to be a squad player this season after a loan move to Carlisle failed to materialise.
5 Zheng Zhi
The normally defensive midfielder joined Charlton on loan in January this year. A brief purple patch playing off the striker led some pundits to hail him as Charlton’s saviour. Unfortunately, his form soon dipped and the Addicks dropped down to the Championship. The 26-year-old is eager to stay in the Premier League, but nobody has taken the bait at the moment.
UPDATE: This morning’s papers reckon Newcastle and Birmingham are interested.
6 Hao Haidong
Nicknamed the Chinese Alan Shearer, Haidong joined Sheffield United for Â£1 (yep, one pound) in 2005. The move came a month before the Blades toured China. Coincidence? Pies suspects not. He has made just one appearance for United and has worked mainly as an Academy coach. Now aged 36, more first-team appearances are not likely to be forthcoming.
7 Li Weifang
The less successful of Everton’s two Lis. Weifang joined on loan at the same time as Ti, but the former China skipper did not have the same impact as his namesake. Homesick, struggling to adapt to the English game and with just a solitary appearance under his belt, Weifang returned to China after his loan season. He currently plays in China for Shanghai Shenhua.
8 Du Wei
A number of players in this list have enjoyed only shortlived first-team careers in Britain. Few are shorter than Du Wei though, who has just 45 minutes with Celtic to his name. He signed for the Bhoys in 2005 and made his debut/farewell appearance in the shock defeat to Clyde in the Scottish Cup third round in January 2006. He was hauled off at half-time by Gordon Strachan having obviously failed to impress!
9 Qu Bo
Rose to prominence with some decent displays in the 2002 World Cup. He spent a month on loan at Tottenham before work permits, bane of the Chinese footballer, struck again. A trial at Blackburn followed, but again no permanent move materialised. He missed the current Asian Cup with an ankle injury.
10 Su Maozhen
Long before Dong there was Su Maozhen. He had a couple of trials with Manchester United as a youngster which saw him feature in the junior sides with the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes. He went onto make more than 50 appearances for his country before returning to Manchester to complete a Masters in management at Salford University. He is also the assistant coach of the 2008 Chinese Olympic team.