SIPG's Elkeson heads growing list of players touted as possible picks for China
Shanghai SIPG star Elkeson headlines a trio of Brazil-born players who could acquire Chinese citizenship to boost the national team's ranks.
Titan Sports this week reported that Elkeson is wanted by his former club Guangzhou Evergrande, with the seven-time domestic champion planning to naturalize the player as it continues to pursue its long-held dream of fielding an all-Chinese starting XI.
Signing a 'Chinese' Elkeson would also help Evergrande stay within the CSL quota on foreign players.
Elkeson has already indicated he is open to the process, telling Oriental Sports Daily earlier this year: "I might consider a formal invitation.If the conditions are right, then why not?"
His potential eligibility for China would be a massive boost for the beleaguered national team.
The 29-year-old has resided in China since arriving at Evergrande for 5.7 million euros ($6.4 million) in 2012. He proved an instant hit, bagging 24 goals to finish as top scorer in the 2013 Chinese Super League season.
Evergrande cashed in on Elkeson with a 18.5 million euro switch to SIPG in 2016, with the forward helping his new team to its first CSL title last season.
Evergrande is also being linked with naturalization moves for two of Elkeson's compatriots, striker Aloisio, of the second-tier Guangdong Southern Tigers, and winger Fernando Henrique, of the CSL's Chongqing Lifan.
According to online.sh.cn, the Chinese Football Association began to consider naturalizing the 31-year-old Aloisio half a year ago.
He has previous top-flight experience with Shandong Luneng, where he finished at the top of the 2015 CSL scoring chart with 22 goals.
Aloisio was snapped up by Hebei China Fortune in 2016 before moving to the Southern Tigers in 2018 on a two-year deal.
Chinese newspaper Soccer News reports that Evergrande is also prepared to fork out 10 million euros ($11 million) for 26-year-old Fernando.
Evergrande is also in the process of naturalizing former England under-20 and Everton defender Tyias Browning and Xiao Chu (aka Roberto Siucho in his native Peru), who now plays on loan at second-tier Shanghai Shenxin.
They would all join a fast-growing brigade of naturalized talent, with Pedro Delgado on Sunday becoming the latest convert to play in the CSL when he suited up for Shandong in a 2-0 win over leader Beijing Guo'an.
The 22-year-old Portugal native, who gained Chinese citizenship this year, even belted out the Chinese national anthem before kickoff as if to confirm his commitment to his new country.
Guo'an has pioneered Chinese soccer's naturalization trend, importing Hou Yongyong (aka John Hou Saeter) from Norway and Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris) from England earlier this year.
Former Arsenal academy product Li subsequently became the first naturalized player to don the red of Team China in a 2-0 friendly victory over the Philippines in June.
"Li Ke fitted in very well, and he was really focused during and after the match," China head coach Marcello Lippi said after that June match in Guangzhou.
With naturalization now a common method of strengthening national teams, support is growing for the idea in China.
"In many strong national soccer teams, there are naturalized players," China's former Bundesliga player Shao Jiayi told China Daily. "It will for sure level up the strength of the national team.
"Many feared that by importing naturalized players we would adversely affect youth soccer in China, but I think that's short-sighted.Some naturalized players can help attract more kids to the sport.
"Many players at Evergrande have improved because of the international players there.
"Naturalized players could benefit the national team and help the next generation."