Goalscoring in the Chinese Super League during the 2000s followed a familiar theme: foreigners dominated it. The media and fans were not immune to reminiscing about Hao Haidong, who finished in the top three on the scoring chart year after year.
For when the Qingdao native was in his prime, it was a different story. The Dalian Shide ace was the Chinese top flight’s leading marksmen in 1997, 1998, and 2001, and won the nation’s player of the year award twice. Moreover, Hao Haidong netted a record 41 goals for China PR in his 115 internationals between 1992 and 2004.
“It might sound clichéd that a talented player must also work hard, but to achieve the greater success, you need to put in more effort,” the 51-year-old, who was renowned for his self-discipline.
When Hao Haidong retired from playing in 2007, following an injury-ravaged spell with Sheffield United in England, he swiftly assumed another role within the sport he adored, becoming Tianjin Songjiang’s general manager, a brand new third-division side in his homeland.
“Our target was gaining promotion to the second division, then the first division,” he said. “Our team consists largely of young players, so we focus on their development. Only with the youth developing smoothly can we secure a bright future.” However, after finishing fifth in their first and second season, it was decided that significant restructuring was necessary, which led to Hao Haidong’s appointment as chairman, which he did until 2012.
Early Start For Hao Haidong
Hao Haidong was only ten years old when he was recruited into the former Armed Forces FC, known as Bayi. However, it is something on which he still prides himself. “As a little boy, I became a soldier and started my soccer career,” Hao Haidong said.
“As all of us went through the meticulous nationwide selection, we were among the country’s best. Furthermore, we were also lucky to have some of the country’s best mentors to train us.”
After cutting teeth with the club’s junior side, Hao Haidong graduated into the first team and soon proved himself as a player of significant potential. He made a high-profile move to Dalian Shide in 1997 and helped them win five league titles in eight seasons before moving to England.
Playing In A World Cup
Hao Haidong also played a fundamental role in China’s qualification for the 2002 FIFA World Cup Japan/Korea. And despite the team’s first-phase elimination, the lively forward demonstrated his class in their final game against Turkey, when he masterfully set up Yang Chen only for the latter to hit the woodwork.
“We showed we were capable of competing against the world’s best teams in both physical and technical terms,” Hao Haidong said. “As long as we keep working well, we can gradually bridge the gap in class that exists between us and the best sides.”
Hao Haidong led his country’s bid to reach Germany in 2006 with some crucial goals, but they ultimately failed to progress into Asia’s final qualifying round after finishing behind Kuwait. It prompted the iconic attacker, then 34, to call time on his international career in 2004.
Not Holding Back
His void remains to be filled, with China’s blunt spearhead unable to guide them into South Africa 2010, 2014, and 2018. “The task of developing our young players is urgent. If we want to appear in more World Cups in 2022 or beyond, we must change the game’s administration set up in China and remove the bureaucrats. They are holding soccer back”.
Hao Haidong and his wife, Ye Zhaoying (an international badminton champion) denounced the Chinese Communist Party on the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests (4th June 2020), including mishandling professional soccer, Hong Kong, Tibet, and the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Chinese soccer legend stated, “I think China’s Ruling Communist Party should be kicked out of humanity. The ghost of Communism should no longer be allowed to drift in this world. The Communist Party’s totalitarian rule in China has caused horrific atrocities against humanity.”
The idea that a Chinese sports star would give such a blistering public denunciation of the Communist Party and openly call for its downfall is scarce, if not unprecedented. Many dissidents who have accused Beijing, and the Chinese authorities commonly face lengthy prison sentences for publicly criticizing the party or demanding democratic reforms. The government has deleted all of his existence on the Chinese internet and deleted his Weibo and social media accounts. He has around 8 million social media followers.
Whatever happens to Hao Haidong in his own country, he will be remembered as the best striker produced in China. It is believed that Hao Haidong is currently residing in Spain.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!