Glasgow’s deep-fried Mars bars, bone-chilling winters and hard-to-comprehend local tongue can prove a challenge to any foreigner moving to the city. Zheng Zhi certainly didn’t last very long.
The captain of China’s national football team signed for Celtic last September and quickly made his debut against Glasgow rival, Rangers – a passionate fixture that is known around the world for its warlike mood. Zheng began the ‘Old Firm’ derby well, and even earned Celtic a penalty kick.
However, after a positive start, the midfielder scored only two goals all season, and found himself relegated to the substitute bench. Regardless of this, many in China thought he would stick out another year on the Clyde as it would have made him eligible for British citizenship – having moved to the UK in 2006. But Zheng told Scottish newspaper, the Daily Record that he couldn’t take another season of sitting on the bench, and needed to play more games.
Last week he announced he’d leave Glasgow – after less than a year – to return to China. Some would see it as a bold career choice. He will trade the shirt of one of Britain’s most successful clubs – a winner of the European Cup and 42 time league champions of Scotland – for that of Guangzhou Evergrande, a team which currently languishes in the Chinese second division. As if that weren’t enough of a trade-down, he returns to a country where – as regular WiC readers will know – the game is at an absolute lowpoint, derided by local media for match-fixing and the antics of its ill-disciplined players.
Zheng says he’s returning to his homeland to help aid the game’s renaissance and that his choice of club was a careful one. The new owner of the southern Chinese team is Xu Jiayin, the head of property firm, Evergrande. Like Zheng, Xu wants to rejuvenate Chinese football, and has promised to spend Rmb100 million ($14.6 million) on players to revive the side. Zheng – nicknamed ZZ in China – is reportedly getting Rmb5 million a year to form the lynchpin of the team, as Xu seeks to transform it into a Chinese Super League club.
The infusion of cash (and talent) is welcome – with Chinese sports fans desperate for football success. As reported in WiC66, China’s failure to qualify for this month’s World Cup in South Africa has been a source of consternation.
Xu may even see himself as a bit of a Roman Abramovich. That’s because – aside from the high profile signing of Zheng – he’s rumoured to be after Ronaldo too. “More fans will come to the sport here if the Brazilian great signs with Evergrande, as has been reported. His simple presence would be a coup for the real estate development company, let alone the goals he would score,” concludes China Daily.
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