Citizenship switch key to Guo'an swoop

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Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu beats Dalian Yifang goalkeeper Zhang Chong while in action for Beijing Guoan in the Chinese Super League on Aug 14.

Beijing Guo'an says it is close to completing the naturalization of two European players with a view to signing them as 'domestic imports' next season.

Fresh from its first Chinese FA Cup win in 15 years, Guo'an is already eyeing reinforcements for next term, with former Arsenal player Nico Yennaris and Norwegian youngster John Hou Sæter nearing moves to the capital club.

"Everything is going smoothly in the effort to naturalize the two players from Europe to make them our local players next year," Guo'an general manager Li Ming said during a season-review program on Beijing Television on Monday.

A product of Arsenal's youth system, Yennaris made one appearance for the Gunners' senior team before moving to Brentford in 2014, when the west London side was in England's third tier.

A versatile midfielder, Londonborn Yennaris became a mainstay for the Bees but, after helping them win promotion to the Championship, has since fallen out of favor.

The 25-year-old, who has been capped at youth level by England, is desperate for first-team action.

Trondheim-born Hou Sæter, known as Hou Yongyong in China, is currently with Norwegian top-flight club Stabæk. The promising 20-year-old attacking midfielder was named Norway's youth player of the year in 2014.

Both players, who have Chinese mothers, have agreed to cede their current citizenship, according to Guo'an.

Li revealed all necessary documents for the nationality-conversion process have been submitted and the players are expected to register with the Chinese Football Association in time for the start of the new season in March.

If all goes to plan, the transfers won't eat into Guo'an's foreign import quota. CSL teams are permitted to field three foreigners at the same time in any league game, although more restrictive rules could be enforced next term.

Guo'an's efforts to acquire the pair will be closely monitored by its CSL rivals and other sports, particularly of the snow and ice variety as China prepares to bolster its Olympic ranks ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, Hebei province.

Since mid-2017 the Chinese Ice Hockey Association, through the Kunlun Red Star club, has been scouring North America for players of Chinese descent.

Some of those recruits helped Red Star's women's team, known as the Wanke Ray, beat a Russian select side 2-1 in an exhibition game in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, on Monday.

Still, representing China at the international level in either soccer or hockey is far from straight forward, given the strict eligibility rules of each sport.

In the case of Yennaris and Hou Sæter, FIFA rules require them to live in China for at least five consecutive years after changing nationality.

Both meet the stipulation of not having represented their original associations at senior level.

The International Ice Hockey Association requires male players to have at least two consecutive seasons (one season for female players) in the national competition of an adopted country after changing citizenship in order to be permitted to represent that country on the international stage.

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