China's soccer exports face uncertain future

2008-05-06 20:18:08  China Daily      

Sun Jihai (L) during a training session in this March 25, 2008 file photo. [Xinhua]

Chinese soccer fans have had a lot of reasons to cheer their English league exports, Sun Jihai and Zheng Zhi, but now they also have good reason to be concerned.

The Daily Mirror reported last week Premier League club Manchester City midfielder Sun is set to leave at the end of the season, which has stirred displeasure among Chinese media and fans, as Sun was thought to have been the country's most successful player in overseas leagues.

"Manchester City are losing Chinese star Sun Jihai, 30, at the end of the season. Versatile Jihai has been told he won't be getting a new contract and has opened talks with clubs in the Premier League and Championship," the report said.

"He wants to stay in the north west and hopes to sort out a deal quickly."

Sun's fellow international midfielder Zheng Zhi, meanwhile, also has an uncertain future at English Championship's Charlton Athletic, after Zheng and his teammates failed to gain promotion to the Premiership.

Though Sun is likely to leave City, he was included in the starting line-up by manager Sven-Goran Eriksson for its weekend match against Liverpool. He was impressive in defense against the Reds, though City lost 1-0.

This match was his 150th for the club since he joined in February 2002, from domestic league champion Dalian. Sun is the only player from five years ago, with center back Richard Dunne, who is still in the team.

Sun is uncertain about his future but denied the report that he will leave.

"No one from the club told me or my agent that the club would not extent the contract. So, before the final decision is announced, nothing is guaranteed."

The first Chinese player to score a goal in England's top flight league and the UEFA Cup, Sun is confident he is still in his prime, aged 30.

"Six years and 150 matches. How could you have such a record if you have no ability? I am only 30 and I feel I'm still at my best."

Sun admitted he would prefer to remain at City.

"It's for sure that I have become emotionally linked to the city. And I've got used to everything here. My first choice is to stay at Manchester City."

Even so, he added, he is not concerned about his career direction, as there are other clubs showing an interest in him.

"Clubs in the Premier League and Championship are very interested. A Premier League club even faxed me the draft contract. But I cannot tell you which club. The league has not finished yet and I think it will take some time to know the final result.

"Fans do not have to be worried about me. I can 100 percent stay in England if I want to."

Will ZZ return?

Unlike Sun, Zheng Zhi did not play in his club's weekend match, the season's final game, and there are doubts if Zheng will return to Charlton next season after the club failed to get promoted.

Dubbed "ZZ" by media and fans, Zheng, 27, is highly regarded by his teammates and coaches for his inspirational midfield play.

He started 38 times for the club in the league and scored seven goals, as well as six assists. He also scored twice in the League Cup and FA Cup, making him the second leading goal-scorer and top assist-provider for the team.

He signed a two-year contract at The Valley after completing his 2 million pounds ($4 million) move from Shandong Luneng in China last August.

Club manager Alan Pardew has repeatedly expressed his hope that Zheng would stay at the club and inspire the team to move back into the top flight again.

Pardew admited the China international was overused in the latter part of the season and is now in need of a rest, although that can only realistically happen once the midfielder has represented his country at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

"I think the season caught up with him a little bit," Pardew said. "He was such a massive player for us for most of the season but in the last third he found it really tough going.

"Without being too critical of him, because he's a great player, he just got tired. Perhaps I should have rested him more - in hindsight I would have done. But I wanted to pick him because he was one of my better players.

"He has a very long program in the summer again and this boy is desperate for some rest. I will make sure he gets plenty of rest after the Olympics and comes back a stronger player."

Zheng flew back and forth between England and China in February and March, for two of China's World Cup Asian Zone Qualifier matches and he will have to play four more from June, before playing another four Olympic group matches in Beijing Games in August.

Though rumors about Zheng's future are rife, Pardew's remarks show there is hope Zheng may stay at the club next season.