Elkeson: Meet the newest Chinese footballing hero
Background image: 慕尼黑啤酒, CC BY-SA 3.0
International identity and/or citizenship is a fluid concept when considering contemporary footballers. No longer is it a necessity to be raised solely on fish and chips to represent England. Nor apple pie America, or even a Maple Syrup-based diet to don the Canadian colours. The same theory applies all over the globe as certain footballers are permitted to change their FIFA congruence to suit their careers or newfound nationality.
Should you have glanced over the Chinese Super League for the last six years or so, one foreign name was there before others; ‘Elkeson’. Born in Brazil, the striker continues to play in the CSL, now in his sixth campaign, indeed he’s in it in for the long haul. Given his tenure in China, this granted him successful naturalisation – which allows him citizenship, just like any other Chinese person. The difference being, he’s now going to play for the Chinese national team.
Why would the Chinese national team be so interested? Managed by former Italian World Cup winner, Marcelo Lippi, the Chinese FA surveys for quality, even if that’s through European eyes. What can a 30-year-old debutant offer?
They want to select this South American due to his unheralded success in China. When he arrived in 2013, Elkeson admitted it was a gamble to step away from Botafogo, particularly as he wasn't headed to a European club when he was in his early 20s. That said, his resume post-Brazil simply enriches itself with unforeseeable goal tallies, coupled with a trophy opulence. It's a fair reflection when pondering his triumphant streak in Asia.
Four CSL titles, including Shanghai SIPG’s first-ever division win and two AFC Champions League trophies to add to his individual plaudits; the CSL golden boot and CFA player of the year. Quite an impressive list...
Six years on, he’s no longer in his 20s. Having turned 30 last month, is there any better birthday gift for the player than a call-up from his newly found nationality? – as well as providing the touchpaper for his international football career.
He’s gone on record with Chinese publications to say he’s incredibly proud to be Chinese while being jubilant at living in China. The country, the people and the football delighted him; in turn, he is actively practising his Chinese singing - for the national anthem he’ll be expected to belt out before international matches.
Taking the last three years a sample size, this is a man who is comfortable on the ball as he possesses the ability to do almost anything with it. His runs only became more successful with growing wisdom. Elkeson continues to be accurate with his shooting – having more on-target attempts than those adjudged to be off. His pass game is also a top drawer, given that his passes meet his teammate over 77% of the time. Detailed analytics would say there’s been slight attrition in his goal rate over time, but all data scientists are quashed since his re-marriage honeymoon period with Guangzhou. Since re-joining Evergrande last month he’s scored seven goals and made two assists in just seven games. This is the form that Lippi wants him in for the national team.
Head coach Lippi isn’t afraid to mix up his front-line having played four different attacking formations in as many games. Three up front, two, one and one backed up by three very-attack-minded midfielders. The multiple strikers or AMC formation would allow China to get the most from Elkeson as he’d not only be able to score the goals but assist too with his precision passing.
For his tenure in China, he’s built up a familiarity with several Chinese players – across both Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG. Guangzhou, for their corporation like grasp on the CSL, contributes over 34% of the Chinese national squad. Add in the two players from SIPG as well as Wu Lei who was there at the same time as our former Brazilian, then half of the squad is in Elkeson’s contact list already.
The first potential matches for Elkeson to earn his first Chinese caps could allow him to hit the ground running. First up an exhibition match against Myanmar, then a 2022 World Cup qualifying match with the Maldives as the opposition. With both adversaries ranked considerably lower than Team Dragon, the new Chinese striker stands at great opportunity axiom to show off his stripes by taking advantage of weak defences before him.
When he does play, it will etch history for the Chinese side as he’ll become the primary player to represent the nation without any Chinese ancestry. Non-progressive football followers may simply tweet away: ‘he doesn’t look Chinese’, indicative of a general misunderstanding or Elkeson unappreciation, to what he can still offer this national team...