The age of naturalized Chinese footballers has well and truly arrived. With Beijing Guo’an already benefiting from their pair of naturalized acquisitions this year – Nico Yennaris and John Hou Saeter – speculation from Chinese media about another pair of famed foreign-born players becoming naturalized Chinese citizens has been rife this week.
News surfaced on Friday, May 24 that Brazilian attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart will return to Guangzhou Evergrande after leaving for Brazilian club Palmeiras on loan just four months ago. According to AP News, Goulart left Palmeiras after receiving an offer he couldn’t refuse (Don Corleone, much?).
Almost immediately after that news broke, media outlets in China began to hypothesize on the possibility of Goulart being made a naturalized Chinese citizen, thereby becoming eligible to play for the Chinese national team. In addition, there has been speculation that Goulart’s former teammate and current Shanghai SIPG player Elkeson is also in line to be added as a naturalized citizen, thereby becoming eligible to play with the Chinese national team under recently re-appointed manager Marcelo Lippi.
According to South China Morning Post, a major part of Lippi agreeing to return to the helm of the Chinese football team was the understanding that he could use naturalized players in his World Cup qualifying squad.
Screengrab via @titan_plus/Twitter
According to The Paper, in order for either player to be eligible for naturalization, they need to have lived in China for five years consecutively. Goulart joined Guangzhou Evergrande in January 2015, while Elkeson joined Guangzhou Evergrande in December 2012, before making the move to Shanghai SIPG in January 2016. Both players have been called up to the Brazilian national team during their careers, with Goulart making an appearance against Ecuador in September 2014. As that game was merely a warm-up, the door for Goulart to become a naturalized citizen remains open, but not until January 2020, it seems.
According to a much-quoted report by Beijing Youth Daily, the Chinese national squad that will compete for qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be announced in September of this year, at which point Goulart will not be eligible to be made a naturalized Chinese citizen. The media outlet points out that naturalization procedures for Elkeson make more sense if Lippi is going to take that route.
China find out who they face in the second round of qualifiers after the draw on July 17 in Dohar.
[Cover image via @ricardogoulart11/Instagram]