FIFA on Wednesday confirmed it will next month discuss proposed changes to its international eligibility rules, which could affect the Chinese Football Association’s naturalization policy.
England-born Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris) last year became the first naturalized player to earn a cap for China, with Brazil-born Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) following. Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio), Alan and Ricardo Goulart have also been granted Chinese citizenship with a view to playing for the national side.
New proposals, however, to be discussed at the 70th FIFA Congress, which will take place as an online event from Zurich on Sept 18, could hinder some of China’s naturalization applications but also help others.
World soccer’s governing body is proposing that players looking to change association meet certain revised requirements:
1) That they were fielded in a match in an official competition at any level (with the exception of “A” international level) for their current association; 2) At the time of being fielded for that first match, the player did not hold the nationality of the association which he wishes to represent; 3) That the player, at the time of being fielded for his last match in an official competition for his current association, was under 21 years old; 4)That the player’s biological mother, biological father, grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association, or that he has lived on the territory of the relevant association for at least five years.
The proposed changes could open the Team China door for Guangzhou Evergrande’s naturalized defender Tyias Browning, aka Jiang Guangtai, who meets all those requirements. The former Everton youngster, who has became a core player in Evergrande’s defense, is currently not eligible to represent China because he played for England’s youth team.
Others such as Jiangsu Suning’s Brazilian striker Alex Teixeira and Beijing Guo’an’s naturalized midfielder Hou Yongyong (aka John Hou Saeter) would also be eligible for Team China selection under the new proposals.
Current rules state that a player should have lived continuously on the territory of the association he wishes to join for at least five years.
FIFA is seeking to remove any ambiguity caused by the word “continuously”. The new proposals, therefore, outline that, “barring any exceptional circumstances”, the phrase “lived on the territory of the relevant association” would mean a player must have been physically present on that territory for at least 183 days during a 12-month period, and to be considered to have “lived on the territory” of that association for that year.
The proposals also stipulate that the period of physical presence must not have been interrupted by short absences abroad for personal reasons; holidays abroad during the offseason; medical treatment or rehabilitation abroad following injury or illness; or travel abroad as a result of soccer employment.
However, interruptions are permitted when a player is transferred to a club affiliated to a different association; or a player is absent from a territory for any reason other than those set out in the previously listed situations.
Those stipulations could be an issue for Brazil-born Goulart. The Evergrande striker, who is now on loan at Hebei China Fortune, was loaned out to Brazilian side Palmeiras in 2018, interrupting his five-year stay in China which began in 2015.
It had been hoped that Goulart could become China’s fourth naturalized player, with the team bidding to earn the country qualification for its first World Cup finals since 2002.
Coach Li Ke’s squad faces a daunting task of qualifying for the 2022 finals in Qatar with four first-round qualifiers to play.
China is eight points adrift of Group A leader Syria and only leads third-place Philippines on goal difference. The eight group winners and four best second-place finishers will enter a second phase of qualifying.