Newspaper article International New York Times

'Gnats' Take Their Talent to China

Newspaper article International New York Times

'Gnats' Take Their Talent to China

Article excerpt

A former player and columnist said the Brazilian Alex Teixeira has "the professional ambition of a gnat," but times have changed since his heyday.

As the migration of soccer players from Europe to China continues, much of the rhetoric is falling short on understanding.

After Alex Teixeira's move to Liverpool fell through, and the Brazilian was sold days later for $55 million to the Chinese Super League club Jiangsu Suning, the former Liverpool defender Mark Lawrenson said in a Liverpool newspaper that Teixeira "must have the professional ambition of a gnat."

Likewise, when the Colombian Jackson Martinez left Atletico Madrid after barely half a season, the presumption was that he couldn't cut it in Madrid. Ramires, the Brazilian sold by Chelsea, and Gervinho, the Ivory Coast striker sold by Roma, are other notable players who have joined Chinese clubs in recent weeks in what The Sun newspaper has called the "Great Haul of China."

Players leaving European clubs and heading to different continents is nothing new, look at Major League Soccer. But there is a difference between what the Chinese clubs have done and what the M.L.S. did so selectively with big names like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Andrea Pirlo.

The players heading west to M.L.S. have largely been at the end of their careers, trading their fame for a few seasons in the land of the dollar. Those rushing east to chase the renminbi are closer - - much closer -- to being in the prime of their careers.

Many of them have been on the money trail since their early teens. Like soccer mercenaries, they have been shipped out of their countries in South America, Africa and, more recently, Asia, by talent spotters to join rich clubs in Europe.

They know no other life. Their place at a top team is dependent on the whim of the coach, whose own tenure might not last a season at any one club. And when playing careers can be ended by the next tackle, why should we blame young men for crossing this final frontier in search of a living?

It might just be -- though nobody is betting on it -- that a few of the hundreds now playing in the China are intrigued by the challenge of a different culture.

The Lawrenson quip about Teixeira having "the professional ambition of a gnat" if he prefers Jiangsu over Liverpool is in itself dated. When Lawrenson, 58, played in Liverpool's defense 30 years ago, it really was the team to play for.

But Lawrenson, who grew up in northern England, did not have to move far or learn a new language or wonder how long management would last at Liverpool. When he joined the Reds, it was a career move to one of Europe's most stable giants.

There is no such stability today, and very little expectation that a top player (other than Lionel Messi at Barcelona or Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid) will stay in one place for most of their prime. …

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