Bundesliga clubs once made a promise to cultivate Chinese soccer talent and put China's stars on their teams. Evidence suggests this promise has been broken. Only three Chinese players have ever made it in Germany.
Hao Junmin, playing here for China, now kicks for Schalke 04
Six years ago, the Bundesliga was looking toward China not only as a possible new area of investment and commercial promotion, but also as a potential gold mine of future talent.
In 2004, then Bayern Munich manager Uli Hoeness was among those who set their club a goal of finding, nurturing and producing Chinese talent good enough to play first team soccer in Germany.
"We're looking for a Chinese player," Hoeness said at the time. "Our supervisors traveled to the 2004 Asian Cup and watched every match. But he must be good enough to play for us. We would gladly have a Chinese player, but not one who sits on the bench."
It appears Bayern's search has been fruitless. There is not a single Chinese player on any of the club's professional teams - none on the first and second string, or its three youth teams.
Young Chinese talent
But while Bayern's great plan for a future with Chinese players has yet to bear any fruit, other Bundesliga teams have unearthed talent from China. It raises the question: were they faster than Bayern in securing their signatures or are everybody else's standards just lower than those in Munich?
Soccer is considered the number one spectator sport in China
Schalke 04 will certainly be hoping that it was their scouting prowess - not their lower standards - that was responsible for recruiting Chinese international midfielder Hao Junmin. Hao joined the title-chasing Gelsenkirchen team just before the January transfer window slammed shut, becoming the first Chinese player in the Royal Blue's 106-year history.
Hao has represented China 26 times, scoring five goals in his international career to date, including the opener in a 1-1 friendly draw with Germany last May. He moves to Gelsenkirchen with a record of 16 goals in 132 Chinese Super League appearances for his previous club, Tianjin Teda. He was voted young player of the year in China in 2005 and 2007 and was a member of the Chinese squad at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
One has to wonder why Bayern Munich overlooked this young Chinese talent, when developing a connection with China and producing stars for their first team was club policy as far back as 2004.
But Bayern, as ever, made it their first order of business to concentrate on recruiting stars who can make an immediate impact and bring silverware to the Allianz Arena in the shortest amount of time. This means the club targets European and South American players of a certain pedigree.
Moreover, last year, Bayern's Sporting Director Christian Nerlinger announced that a new emphasis on youth would be at the center of Bayern's transfer policy, meaning a switch from scouring the leagues of the world to promoting from within.
Lack of trust - or talent?
The Bavarian club is not alone in apparently lacking the trust in Chinese football to take a chance even on its better players. Hao is only the third Chinese player ever to play for a Bundesliga side and the first to be given a contract without having to prove himself through a trial.
Chen Yang was the first Chinese to play in the Bundesliga when he joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 1997, signed by then coach Felix Magath, the man who just brought Hao to Schalke. He surprised many by becoming a first choice striker in his debut season, although he seemed to be profiting more from the shortcomings of Frankfurt's other strikers than from his own talent.
Shao is now playing in the second division
Chen Yang found the Bundesliga an unforgiving environment, failing to get to grips with the physical aspects of the game and suffering from communication problems. He eventually moved to FC St. Pauli after four years with Frankfurt, but after a year in Hamburg, he returned to China.
Striker Shao Jiayi arrived in the Bundesliga in 2002 as a loan signing for 1860 Munich from his club Beijing Guoan - the same club that produced Chen Yang. He played for two-and-a-half seasons before moving to Energie Cottbus in 2006. Now in his fourth year with the second division side, Shao struggles to hold down a regular first-team place.
For the last six years, Bundesliga clubs haven't even had the excuse that they couldn't afford to invest their own time and money in searching for new Chinese talent. An initiative between the German and Chinese soccer federations began doing that job for them in 2004, bringing talented Chinese youngsters to Germany to train and play in a European environment.
As part of their education, the Chinese players were placed with Bundesliga teams to train and experience life in German clubs. The teams were happy to have the youngsters train with them, and some shared the hope that they'd discover diamonds in the rough.
But none were given the chance to turn a work placement into a career, another sign that suggests most German coaches believe Chinese players don't have what it takes to hack it in the Bundesliga.
Unless Felix Magath knows something no-one else does.
Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Martin Kuebler