Brazilian striker Elkeson has become the first soccer player without Chinese ancestry to be called up for the China men’s soccer team. As anticipated, China has made the move to naturalize Elkeson and he swiftly got called up to play for the national team in its upcoming World Cup qualifier against the Maldives next month.
He was previously named in the provisional 50-man squad announced earlier this month.
Elkeson is eligible to play for China because of residency rules, despite not being ethnically Chinese. Under FIFA eligibility rules, non-Chinese players can play for the country after at least five years of residency.
Elkeson joins the 35-player national team under coach Marcello Lippi, who previously complained about the lack of attacking options on the team.
The striker, who will take on the Chinese name Ai Kesen, may become the second naturalized citizen to play for the national team. The half-British, half-Chinese Nico Yennaris got a passport this January and signed with Beijing Guo’an. John Hou Saeter, who is also half-Chinese swapped his Norwegian passport for a Chinese one in the same month to join Beijing Guo’an.
On Wednesday night, Elkeson pinned a heartfelt post on social media about his decision to rejoin Guangzhou Evergrande and become a Chinese citizen.
“I wanted to repay all the love that the Chinese people gave me in these seven years,” Elkeson wrote on Instagram in his native Portuguese. “I felt comfortable in China, as if I was born in China… I gave up my nationality to try to repay all the affection I have received here since my arrival.”
Football fans on social media have welcomed Elkesons as a new Chinese citizen.
“Foreigners who love China, are Chinese,” one wrote. Others commented in solidarity, “We are all Chinese.”
Screengrab via @中国新闻网/Weibo
However, the move to have a non-Chinese player represent the country has also sparked dissent among some fans.
“This kind of patriotism that comes from money...feels complicated. When the time comes and he becomes Brazilian again, we’ll see the same images on Brazilian TV screens,” one user wrote.
Another netizen voiced opposition to the decision, writing, “We are not an immigrant country. The so-called naturalized players are just the names of real estate developers… Not only has it suppressed the space of Chinese players, it has also enabled people with ulterior motives to enter football.”
[Cover image via @official_elkeson09/Instagram]