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China starts naturalizing foreign players to improve national football, as issue dominates fans’ discourse

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China started naturalizing foreign players this year in an effort to boost Chinese national team’s squad depth.

In actualizing this, two foreign players have already been listed as citizens to enable them play for the country.  They are Pedro Delgado of Shandong Luneng and Nico Yennaris of the Beijing Sinobo Guoan. Yennaris now goes with the Chinese name, Li Ke, and that was made known before he featured in friendlies for the national team in June. 
But Delgado’s case has raised eyebrows as CSL teams have started naturalizing foreign players to avoid the league’s limit on each club registering only four foreigners. 
As CSL requires all clubs have at least one under-23 player throughout league matches, Delgado, now 22, has made sure that Luneng can also avoid contravening that clause for this season. 
Fans are calling for the Chinese soccer governing body CFA to adjust its regulations. 
“The CFA should consider putting a more specific regulation on naturalized players. It does not make sense to naturalize a player who cannot play for the Chinese national team,” another Weibo user commented. 
“If there is no further limits, naturalizing foreign players could be a loophole to dodge the league’s foreign player limit.”
There are also voices calling for allowing more foreigners to play in the league.
“Having high-level foreign players could make the league more competitive, which in return will help domestic players build better capability in dealing with the high tempo and the pressure,” a fan said. “Ultimately it will help the national team improve.”

The Chinese Super League (CSL) ended its half season on Sunday with Beijing Sinobo Guoan the league leaders, but what dominated discussions between fans are the naturalized players in the league.

Pedro Delgado of Shandong Luneng was under scrutiny lately, as his debut in the CSL helped Luneng overcome Guoan in a 2-0 win on Sunday. Portugal-born Delgado has been naturalized as a Chinese citizen naming De’erjiaduo – the pinyin of Delgado, with his ethnic identity labeled as “Han,” the major ethnic group in China. 

Though Delgado appeared to sing the Chinese national anthem along with his Chinese teammates before Sunday’s game, his ethnic identity has put him in an awkward position as many Han-­ethnic fans do not believe they are sharing the same ethnic identity with the former Portuguese.

“I cannot believe I am in a same ethnic group with Delgado, that’s weird,” a fan posted on Weibo. 

“He should not be included in Han ethnic group.”

But what made things worse is that it seems Delgado’s naturalization is not in line with other foreign players’ motivations, as he had represented Portugal at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2017, which means he cannot represent China at any international competitions under FIFA rules.

SOURCE; GLOBAL TIMES

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