Frank Soo: Immigrant, pioneer and inspiration

Even in the multinational outfits that grace today’s English game, the number of players from the Far East remains relatively thin. But will this always be the way? For the origins of Chinese influences in English football, we have to go back to an era where the spectre of world war loomed large.

About Frank Soo

As the first man of Chinese origin to play in English football, Frank Soo (1914-1991) is considered (to an extent) a pioneer of Chinese players breaking into England. Born in Buxton to a Chinese immigrant father and an English mother, Soo was part of a wartime England team. As such, he made a very real impression on what was then a very primitive game.

Frank Soo. A cult hero who nearly inspired Stoke City to the 1936 First Division title.

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After rising through the ranks of the Cheshire Leagues, his big break finally came at Stoke City in 1933. At 5’8, what he lacked in physicality he more than made up for with an ability to visualise opportunities and pass into space. He did so with a consistency which would be highly prized even today.

Chinese in the PL – A risk worth taking?

Ever presently, there remains the idea that players from the Far East will always struggle to adapt to the more physical aspects of the English game. Cases in hand include most of the Chinese players who have taken to the pitch in the Premier League. Manchester City legend Sun Jihai is an obvious exception.

After impressing at the 2002 World Cup, Sun Jihai headed to Manchester in time for the Citizens’ last season at Maine Road. Six years and 130 appearances later he left the club a cult hero. The aftermath of the 2002 World Cup also saw the arrival of Li Tie and Li Weifeng at Everton – newly sponsored by Chinese telecommunication giant Kejian. The contrast between that duo, and the aforementioned Sun Jihai, is stark.

It immediately became apparent that Li Weifeng, with the reputation of a Vinnie Jones-style midfielder, was barely of conference standard. Li Tie fared a lot better, but still fell well short of the bar that was Sun Jihai.

Li Tie was a flop at Everton after a good loan spell

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After a reasonably strong loan period, he signed permanently. However, the inevitable downturn in form was followed by a succession of injuries that precipitated his departure. Ultimately, this turn of events put paid to any realistic hopes of Li Tie becoming a Goodison favourite. He departed for Sheffield United in 2006 and made no appearances for the Blades.

The list is completed by Zheng Zhi and Dong Fangzhuo. The latter made just one appearance after moving to Manchester United for £500k in 2006/07. Meanwhile Zheng Zhi was relegated with Charlton that same season.

Zheng Zhi. Another flop.
Source: Alchetron

One-way traffic?

Despite all the doom and gloom, we have three young players from the Chinese national side, who may be ready to hit the big time sooner than many think. Check out the gallery below to see them.

Although our trio have shown promise, the Premier League will likely remain bereft of Chinese talent for many years. However, the presence of several coaching dons, like Luis Felipe Scolari and Marcelo Lippi, in China marks the Super League (and players in the national team) as a focal point for the next few years.

Indeed, the mere fact that Lippi is the current manager of the Chinese national team automatically raises the country’s footballing stock many fold.