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Fernandinho indiscipline sparks concerns over naturalization

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-17 09:53

Guangzhou Evergrande newcomer Fernandinho's expected path to the Chinese national team is off to a rocky start after the forward was slapped with a club-record fine for a breach of discipline.

Fernandinho is reportedly set to become the latest player to join China's naturalized ranks-a controversial strategy that has divided opinion among fans and pundits alike.

And the news that the Brazil-born forward was on Friday fined 3 million yuan ($430,000) for missing a chunk of Evergrande's preseason training camp in Dubai is not exactly a glowing recommendation for the naturalization policy.

"During the team's training in Dubai in late February, Fernandinho refused many times to follow the arrangements of the club and the head coach, which severely violated the club's regulations on players," read an Evergrande statement.

"The club has been insisting on strict rules to regulate the team. We hope every player can follow the club's regulations and fight for the team with a strong sense of honor, responsibility and the spirit of teamwork."

Chinese publication Soccer News reported that Evergrande assembled in Dubai for training on Feb 25, but Fernandinho (full name Fernando Henrique da Conceicao) showed up in early March.

Club staff and coaches tried in vain to contact the 27-year-old, with some teammates even fearing for his safety and head coach Fabio Cannavaro left vexed by the situation.

Fernandinho has reportedly been granted Chinese citizenship and would likely become the next naturalized player to join Team China's 2022 World Cup qualifying bid.

He began his Chinese Super League career at Chongqing Dangdai Lifan in 2015 before moving to Hebei China Fortune last year. Evergrande then swooped for his services in January.

Joining defending CSL champion Evergrande was supposed to move Fernandinho another step closer to pulling on the red of China, however his preseason indiscipline could leave his national team selection in jeopardy.

Topics related to the controversy were viewed over 13 million times on Weibo over the weekend, with many opining that Fernanindho's penalty should serve as a warning to future naturalized players. Others were more vehement in their criticism, saying China should steer clear of players who appear to be here just for the money.

"Fernandinho is in his prime time as a player and could be developed into a core striker at Evergrande in the near future," read a commentary on people.com.

"Many consider him a future naturalized star and hope he can score for the national team. But his unprofessional behavior undoubtedly disappointed Guangzhou Evergrande. And now it becomes a question if Team China still want him in?"

Ferandinho's Evergrande teammate Brazil-born Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and England-born Li Ke (aka Nico Yennaris, of Beijing Guo'an) are the only two naturalized players to have been capped by China to date. However, the Chinese Football Association has been working on adding to their ranks in a bid to improve the nation's chances of ending its wait to qualify for the World Cup since a solitary appearance at the 2002 edition.

Sina Sports reported last week that naturalized Brazil-born forwards Alan and Aloisio are already eligible to play for China, with Fernandinho expected to be next.

Team China was scheduled to play its next World Cup qualifiers against the Maldives and Guam this month in Thailand, before facing the Philippines and Syria on June 4 and 9. However, those games have been postponed, reportedly until October and November, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The postponements could work in China's favor, giving new head coach Li Tie more time to prepare and giving the CFA more time to add more naturalized talent.

Head coach Li, whose squad has been training in Dubai, has so far been sparing in his use of naturalized players, with Ai Kesen the only foreign-born star at his Dubai camp.

"Chinese soccer has to eventually depend on homegrown talents," said retired Chinese international Fan Zhiyi.

"Li has said that naturalization is not the savior of Chinese soccer. That also shows our young domestic talent that they need to work hard to earn their spot or it will be taken by naturalized players."

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