CSL 'chaos' as naturalized players barred

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Nico Yennaris(right) and Hou Yongyong. [Photo:China Plus]

Moves to boost Chinese football by introducing naturalized players have been thrown into disarray after clubs were ordered not to pick several new signings from abroad.

China has previously resisted the naturalization policies followed by other countries but the Chinese Football Association opened the door to foreign-born players of Chinese descent at the end of last season.

The change in approach could eventually bolster a national squad that is sorely lacking international-class players and has qualified for the World Cup only once, in 2002.

However, four trumpeted new arrivals failed to take the field, with domestic media saying they had been barred for the first two games of the Chinese Super League season.

"As for the specific reason, none of the parties responded publicly," the Beijing Youth Daily said last week.

"It is reported that the Chinese Football Association has previously drafted a rule for guiding the legitimate naturalization and deploying the naturalized players.

"However, until now, this rule has not been officially announced."

The Shanghai Observer said there was confusion among the clubs over the naturalization policy, leading to "complete disorder" and "chaos".

Beijing Guo’an signed Norwegian-born John Hou Saeter and former England youth international Nico Yennaris during the January-February transfer window, saying it hoped they would eventually play for China.

Both have Chinese mothers, with former Arsenal midfielder Yennaris tweeting that it was "an exciting opportunity for me to play in the birth country of my mother and grandparents".

Yet neither was involved in Friday's opening-day 1-0 win at Wuhan Zall, despite the 21-year-old Saeter coming on as a substitute the previous week in the Super Cup, the season's curtain-raiser.

Saeter, now known as Hou Yongyong, and Yennaris (now Li Ke) travelled to Wuhan, central Hubei Province, but were not included in the squad at the 11th hour, Beijing Youth Daily said.

Also missing from the first round of CSL matches was Gabon-born Alexander N'Doumbou, the former Marseille midfielder signed last month by Shanghai Greenland Shenhua and who also goes by the name Qian Jiegei.

Defender Tyias Browning, the former England youth international who recently joined Guangzhou Evergrande from Everton, also failed to appear for his new club.

Browning reportedly has a Chinese grandfather and Evergrande previously said it was in the process of having him naturalized.

Naturalization is an attractive proposition for clubs because they are restricted to starting a maximum of three overseas players each game.

But there are hints of disquiet over the initiative.

Chen Xuyuan, chairman of CSL champion Shanghai SIPG, said naturalization was tantamount to taking "a short-cut".

"Personally, I'm not very fond of the idea of buying too many naturalized players," Chen said last week, vowing instead to focus on developing players from SIPG's youth ranks.

"But if a player is of Chinese descent, he can still be developed," Chen added.

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