John Yan: From Belgium With Hope
He comes from nowhere, and now he plays for Club Brugge, along with players like Eidur Gudjohnsen and Jonathan Blondel.
This is not the wildest football dream that all football kids would be dreaming of, but coming from China with no professional football background, and suddenly playing for one of the prestigious Belgian clubs, scoring his first goal for the club on his debut, which was also the season opener in the Belgian top division, for 20 year old Wang Shangyuan, this is not a bad start for a football career.
And what a goal it was! Against Sporting Charleroi, in the 65th minute, Wang receiving a pass from a short corner, simply belted a thunderous shot 30 metres from the goal, at an impossible angle for the goalkeeper.
I really wanted to write a headline, saying a Chinese star is born, but Wang is only as good as he plays, and this is just a 20 year old whoplays for the China U21 team, and is having his first taste of professional football in Europe. Wang’s performance and especially his goal, is more than encouraging for football in China, however, he is not a Yao Ming who become a franchise player for a NBA team, and football as a sport is the most sophisticated one which demands the most intricate and complicated team work.
Wang made his debut for Club Brugge only a week after he signed his formal contract with the club, before that, he was not a professional footballer. Wang came from a strange football background: he played for Beijing Sangao FC, which is not a serious football club, more like a football academy. Sangao is an attached part of the High School of People’s University in Beijing. This academy has a healthy reputation in cultivating football talents as well as their academic capabilities, therefore, students from Sangao, if they have failed in the professional football route, always have an opportunity to further their studies in universities.
Wang is from Henan province, spotted by Sangao at a young age, then played and studied there. A proper academic circumstance helped his English learning, for Chinese footballers, the mastering of a foreign language could be as important as their football technique if they pursue a career in Europe. He is the captain of the national U21 team, could easily join one of the leading CSL clubs and was a enjoying weekly salary of £2,000, however, his ambition and hard working spirit persuaded him to take the European risk. He had a trial at Manchester City and finally got his chance in Belgium.
It would not be a surprise that Wang might earn less as he joins Club Brugge, but for most Chinese fans, Wang and a few other youngsters playing in Europe and Brazil, represent the slim hope for football in China. Ten years ago, when Sun Jihai etc were playing in Europe, they were seen to be examples that Chinese could play the sport. Nowadays for Wang and the others, Europe could be a survival outlet for potential talents.
Youth development is the lifeline of football in any country, and China has a long way to go for a homeland system.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com