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China to become football superpower in Year of the Monkey

With lanterns adorning streets, fireworks crackling and dragon costumes creating quite the spectacle, the atmospheric events of Chinese New Year got Coral writers contemplating the East Asian nation’s eager ambition to become a football superpower.

It is no secret that China has been targeting and tapping into the global football market for investment, and rivaling the MLS to lure big name stars at the end of their careers for the past few years. Yet, the ever-improving Chinese Super League hit headlines again in the January transfer window by pinching players based in Europe but still in their prime.

Powerful midfielders Fredy Guarin, Ramires and Stephane Mbia, formerly of Inter Milan, Chelsea and Trabzonspor respectively, plus ex-Roma and Arsenal attacker Gervinho, Liverpool target Alex Teixeira and Colombia international Jackson Martinez are the latest to make the lucrative trek to East Asia. While, rumours have even tipped Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney as a target in summer.
With that in mind, and to help customers celebrate the arrival of Year of the Monkey, we rate stints from superstar players to have already taken part in the footballing rise of the Red Dragon…
Read on to find out what happened to some familiar faces and fan favourites!

Nicolas Anelka – miss
Shanghai Greenland Shenhua snapped up ‘Le Sulk’ from Champions League big-guns Chelsea (20/1 with Coral to win the Champions League) back in 2012 and the feisty French forward scored just 40 seconds in to his first appearance in a pre-season friendly.
Though Anelka’s initial form was not to continue, with injuries and reports of a fan bust-up for refusing to bow seeing a return of just four goals in 27 outings. For a mooted salary of around £9.12m per year, that certainly counts as a miss, and the mercurial marksman was farmed out on loan to Juventus before being released on a free transfer.

See Anelka’s Shanghai highlights below:

Demba Ba – hit
Former Chelsea, Newcastle United and Besiktas frontman Ba was much more of a surprise switch in 2015, given he was still cutting it on the European continent.
Yet the Senegal striker, famous for ending Liverpool’s Premier League title hopes when pouncing on Steven Gerard’s slip, has not suffered in his Oriental adventure so far. Potent in both the Super League and Chinese FA Cup for Shanghai Shenhua, Ba has prospered where Anelka failed with 12 goals in 16 games.

Watch Ba bang them in:

Lucas Barrios – miss
Argentine-born Paraguay poacher Barrios is known as ‘the panther’ for a reason, becoming a prolific Bundesliga scorer for German giants Borussia Dortmund.
As a Chinese Super League winner with Guangzhou Evergrande, it is tough to label Barrios’ stint a miss. However, despite his predatory pedigree, the South American striker failed to settle, scoring 17 in 32 across all competitions but also being excluded from squads and regularly used as a substitute, before leaving after just two terms. He now plies his trade with Brazilian side Palmeiras.

Barrios’ efforts in China:

Tim Cahill – hit
All-round action man, and former Australia and Everton icon, Cahill has hit the ground running after swapping New York Red Bulls for Shanghai Shenhua in 2015. The on-field leader has no doubt treated fans to many a corner flag punch after striking 12 times in 32 appearances across all competitions.
Cahill skill on show in Shanghai:

Didier Drogba – miss
Chelsea legend Drogba was yet another Blues boy to join Shanghai Shenhua, following in the footsteps of Anelka, but played just 11 games for the Blue Devils (also known as the Flower of Shanghai), with a reported contract and wage dispute seeing the talismanic striker join Galatasaray, and then return to win another Premier League title at Stamford Bridge. The Ivorian did score eight in that brief stint, but was merely a ship passing through Shanghai waters.

Eidur Gudjohnsen – miss
Everyone’s favourite Icelandic attacker Gudjohnsen has never been known as prolific and, at age 37, it is tough to expect much from the skillful Nordic star, even in China. Yet there is little doubt club Shijiazhuang Ever Bright will have expected more than one in 14 from Iceland’s all-time top scorer, especially one who wore the colours of Barcelona and Chelsea.

Frederic Kanoute – hit
Famous for stints with West Ham United and Tottenham, Kanoute swapped Sevilla for Beijing Guoan in 2012, with China his last stop before retirement. Though, the forward finished on a rather quiet note in Asia, with just 13 from 46 in the green of the Imperial Guards, who play at the Workers Stadium in China’s bustling capital. His skill was still on show for all to see, however.

Paulinho – hit
After a troubled time with Tottenham, Brazil midfield engine Paulinho was another to jump ship to Evergrande and follow ‘Big Phil’ Luiz Felipe Scolari to China in 2015.

The midfield dynamo’s move seems to have worked out well, with five goals in 22 appearances so far, and crucial contributions such as strikes in the AFC Champions League knock-out stage (which the club went on to win) and FIFA Club World Cup quarter-finals, plus a Super League medal to add to his collection.

Robinho – miss
Having already taken his inconsistent but occasionally brilliant talents to and from Santos, Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan, it seemed only natural that the former Brazil prodigy follow compatriot and ex-coach Scolari to China and Evergrande.

The Samba flair star scored three in nine as the Southern China Tigers won the Super League but ended his contract before Christmas and is currently clubless and in limbo (thouhg linked to another Santos return), which is no doubt a disappointment to Big Phil.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni – hit
Premier League cult hero Yakubu penned a deal with Southern China Tigers city rivals Guangzhou R&F back in 2012, and was a similar striking success in Asia, scoring 25 in 45. The Nigerian former Everton favourite proved dangerous on his debut in the derby with Evergrande, bagging the winner for the Blue Lions to end their 34 league game unbeaten home record.

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