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Import-Export: The Football World Christens A Few New Mainland Passport Holders

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Did you hear about the new, 57th Chinese nationality? Baxiren! (Brazilian.) The joke comes out of the recent, astonishing moves that have roiled Chinese football, and it all started with the last World Cup and the last Asian Cup. China wasn’t present at that World Cup, and Qatar won the Asian Cup — with significant help from players from other countries who had become naturalized Qataris, most notably the extraordinary Almoez Ali, who was born in Sudan. China began to dip its toe into the naturalization waters last year, arranging last year for Englishman Nico Yenneris, whose mother is ethnically Chinese, to get a Chinese passport and play for Beijing Guo’an as “Li Ke.” But the process has suddenly accelerated.

China has started a naturalization assembly line, led by one of the top players in China for the last seven years, Elkeson. The Brazilian has scored 93 goals and won four championships in seven years in the People’s Republic. He also has no plausible ethnic connection to China.

FIFA says: Mei guanxi. If you’ve been in a country for five years, haven’t competed for anyone else’s national team and can get a passport, you can play for your “new country.”

Elkeson isn’t alone: joining him on the national team with brand new Chinese passports will be three other Brazilians: Ricardo Goulart, Aloisio and Fernandinho.

Elkeson was a key member of the SIPG team that won the league last year and is neck-and-neck with Guo’an and Guangzhou Evergrande for the title this year. Fernandinho was a striker for the Chongqing team that is the surprise success story of this year’s CSL. Aloisio was the leading goal scorer for Guangdong Southern Tigers, who are in a League One dogfight for promotion to the CSL.

And all of them are mysteriously leaving their teams halfway through the season to play for Evergrande, where they will form a de facto version of the national team.

This is the same Evergrande whose chairman Xu Jiayin famously promised a couple of years ago that Guangzhou would be fielding an all-Chinese side by 2020. Xu became the butt of internet jokes, but it turns out he knew something we didn’t.

SIPG moved immediately to replace Elkeson, arranging a transfer from West Ham in the English Premier League for Marko Arnautovic, the bad boy of Austrian football. At the age of 30, he has 67 goals in top-flight European leagues.

Across town, Shenhua, which finds itself one precarious point from relegation, is beefing up their roster too, adding striker Kim Shin-wook from top Korean side Jeonbuk Motors. At 196 cm, he’s referred to as “Wookie” for obvious reasons. Italian Stephan Shaarawy, from Roma, is also Shenhua-bound.

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