John Yan: An Open Interview With Sun Jihai 为什么不用孙继海?

On my own program The Football Talk, which is broadcast every Friday on, I had a long interview with Sun Jihai, China’s most successful ever footballer. In this 90 minutes chat, Sun covered issues about his bewilderment of being omitted from the national team, even though at the age of 37, he is still being voted week in week out as the top centre half in the China Super League. Sun also compared the different football cultures in China and Europe, as well as his planning for retirement.

Witty and humorous, Sun always has been a deep thinker in football. His 6 year overseas experience and 130 matches played for Manchester City, left him with considerable resources for rebuilding football in China from the grassroots.

John Yan: What’s your plan for retirement?

Sun: Haven’t got a plan yet. I am still playing, reasonably well at this stage. I really enjoy my football, and hopefully I can continue for another couple of years. Play till I am incapable of playing in the top league in China, and until I am not as happy as I am now with my football.

John Yan: Tell us the secret of keeping your professional career this long, you started in 1995?

Sun: Yes, 1995, as a young right back in the old Jia A (Top Division) of China league. If there are any secrets, those should be a systematic training habit, a good and healthy life style, and a happy and supportive family.

John Yan: Talking about the current season, your club (Gui Zhou Renhe FC) is still in the running for next season’s Asian Champions League position, and you played in almost every round of the league, in the league’s best eleven most of the time. Why are you not in the national team, which really needs some old heads and experience?

Sun: I was only absent from two league games because of accumulated bookings…not red card, but accumulated yellows! The national team has been a thorny issue, I don’t understand the CFA’s selection policy and neither do I know much of Camacho nor the current interim head coach. I am a bit disappointed, though it is not a bad thing being neglected, I could spend more time with my family…however, it is still something I don’t understand. In regarding to capability, I have no doubt that I can do a job for the national team.

John Yan: I remember before this season started (the Chinese season starts rns March till November), you had a full training month in Shenzhen, and you were very positive about rejoining the national team.

Sun: It was really good indeed. I got my dad joining from Dalian for the whole month. We didn’t rest for a single day. Even during the Spring Festival break, we went out of the closed training base, and found some gym rooms in downtown hotels for training. As you know my dad is a well respected decathlon coach, he knows how to prepare me for a new season.

John Yan: It is a shame that the national team should leave you alone. However, you had a career that would make most Chinese footballers envious. Playing in the English Premiership would be very special.

Sun: An eye opener. The football culture, the professionalism in club management. The grassroots. Everything. I had all those well stored in my memory, and hopefully I could find a way to put this knowledge to better use.

John Yan: Do you have your doubts of post playing career planning?

Sun: Of course I do. Considering my current form and I am still not being selected by the national team, what else can you expect the CFA to deliver? My life will always be connected with football, especially with the youth development, but how can I contribute to that?

John Yan: So you are not satisfied with the current grassroots and youth development situation?

Sun: Definitely not, even though my dissatisfication doesn’t mean anything to the CFA guys, and this situation drives me crazy sometimes. I’ve got several questions to ask: how many kids in China nowadays have the time to play football? How many pitches do we construct for kids in this vast country? We’ve been talking about the population of China for ages, seems easy to pick out 11 decent footballers to represent the nation, but how big is our football population?

John Yan: Then you still want to focus on youth development in the future?

Sun: That is the only hope for China’s football. I could be a professional club manager, as I’ve been preparing for that for quite a long period of time now, however, to transfer what I learned and avoid the sufferings I encountered in my career, and help produce more good players for the future, is my aim. I haven’t got a sound plan for the moment, but I am trying from all angles, including seeking cooperation opportunities with Manchester City FC, my former club. They have a fabulous youth development scheme now, and maybe we can create something together in China.

John Yan: Among the current Chinese international players, who has the potential of playing in Europe, like the Premier League?

Sun: Not any from my perspective…maybe I am not objective enough, some young players, like Zhang Linpeng of Guangzhou Evergrande, he has the physical strength and aggressiveness, perhaps he has a chance.

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