Red Star

Li Sirong

China’s Beckham?


David Beckham is the third most capped English football player of all time. Yet despite showing some early promise in the sport, none of his sons look like repeating his feat. Romeo, the middle son, still harbours hopes of a professional career but the boys have made more of a splash being photographed for trashy magazines. Over in China, is Li Sirong having a Beckham-esque experience?

Who is Li Sirong?

He’s the son of retired footballer Li Ming, who was often referred to locally as “China’s David Beckham”. Li junior has just become a social media sensation after signing a professional contract with Dutch side ADO Den Haag. But much of the excitement is down to his looks, rather than his soccer skills, it seems.

Many readers may not have heard of Li Ming senior, who was a superstar in his time in China. Before retiring in 2005, the midfielder won the top-flight football league title eight times (with Dalian Wanda and Dalian Shide) and he was a key member of the Chinese national team (which wasn’t very successful in international campaigns, admittedly).

If Li senior had played in the current era, when fans follow their idols slavishly on social media, he would have been much more of a star. But he has just had a taste of how the online world has transformed football culture, after his son Li Sirong signed his first professional contract.

After a message with a photo was posted on Sina Weibo, Li junior saw the number of his followers jump to over 400,000 from just 4,000 in two days. And that number is still growing fast as the Li family takes centre-stage in Chinese football once again.

Is he China’s Beckham?

Even Xinhua picked up on the hype, running a feature story on Li junior. “Around two decades ago, the handsome Ming was hailed as the ‘Chinese David Beckham’ by his fans. And now his son is also attracting public attention with his appearance,” the state news agency noted last week.

Li Sirong has yet to kick a ball for ADO Den Haag, a team second from bottom in the Eredivisie table this week. However, he has been playing for the club’s academy team since he was 11 and he was offered his first pro contract after turning 18 last month.

Much to his frustration, it is how he looks rather than how he plays that has merited most of the commentary from his legion of new fans. “I have never cared about my looks. I’m focusing more on professional soccer. My appearance is a gift from my parents. I don’t care what others say,” Li protested.

His father sounds a little disconcerted too. “We are not yet well prepared for this. As a former football player, I know how big the pressure is,” he told local media.

Perhaps the problem is that Chinese football fans have little to cheer in the off-season for their favourite sport. The Chinese Super League (CSL) ended in November and much of the current chat is focusing on fears that the new champions Jiangsu Suning are in serious financial difficulties (see WiC526). Li Sirong’s sudden fame is a welcome diversion, all the more so if he can show some of his father’s ability in his future career. “I am confident I can surpass my father’s achievements on the pitch,” he promised.

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