When the inaugural professional league commenced in 1994, the untested teenage Li Xiaopeng was recruited by his home side Shandong Luneng and began an illustrious twelve-year association with the club.
A rare player in the modern era, Li played for only one club during his career, helping Shandong to a league and cup double in 1999, before guiding China to their first FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan in 2002.
The Chinese ‘Beckham’
Li Xiaopeng has been a midfield dynamo who utilizes his feet and head. As a result of his creative talents and scoring flair, he has not only won fans in Shandong but across the country, who describe him as “the Chinese Beckham.”
As expected, “Beckham” caught the attention of China’s head coach at the time, Bora Milutinovic, who included him in the squad for Asia’s first FIFA World Cup qualifier.
The Serbian was soon rewarded for his faith when Li Xiaopeng helped China a home 3-0 win over the United Arab Emirates to open their final round campaign brightly.
“The opener I scored is my life’s goal,” recalled Li. Within two minutes, the hosts had taken the lead. Their second came on 19 minutes when Li Xiaopeng set up Qi Hong to nod in from close range before Hao Haidong sealed the memorable win a quarter of an hour later, and the world’s most populous nation had begun its long journey to the world stage.
Even though Li started the match replacing the injured Li Ming, he won over both Milutinovic and the supporters through his excellent all-around display, holding onto a spot in the midfield throughout the campaign.
“The ground-breaking success took us up amongst Asia’s top teams,” Li says, bursting with pride. “Our side consisted of talented players, and we reached peak cohesion with a common goal.”
Putting Back Into The Game
While co-hosts the Korea Republic swept past the likes of Italy and Spain to march into the last four, Li and his teammates finished empty-handed after conceding nine unanswered goals to crash out of the tournament in the opening round.
“It felt as if we were brought back down to earth,” Li Xiaopeng went on. “But the losses against Brazil and Turkey made us aware that we still have our work cut out if we are to compete against the world’s best.”
Aware of the importance of improving local football from the grassroots up, Li took charge of Junior teams with Shandong Luneng as soon as he hung up his boots in 2005.
In March 2008, he was promoted to his current position nurturing a competitive women’s side for Shandong in October’s National Games, where they will play hosts.
“We have a strong group of talented girls, but none of them are on the national team,” Li reports. “However, whatever results we get, our team will prove to be, you might say, the most industrious.” Li Xiaopeng concluded with a smile glinting in his eyes.
He became the youngest coach ever to manage the Chinese women’s team when he accepted the position as interim head coach for the Chinese women’s team before the 2010 Asian Games.
Li led China to the semi-finals but was defeated by Japan 1–0. For Li was offered an extension on his contract to guide the team through the 2012 Olympics qualifiers, this would be satisfactory. However, the team did not qualify, so Li resigned.
In December 2021, Li was appointed as the new manager of the Chinese national team, succeeding Li Tie.
Li Xiaopeng Facts And Figures
Full Name: Li Xiaopeng
Birthplace: Qingdao, Shandong, China
- 1994-2005: Shandong (217 matches, 42 goals)
National Playing Career:
- 2000-2004: China (39 appearances, three goals)
- 2010–2011: China Women’s National Team
- 2014: Qingdao Jonoon
- 2018–2020: Shandong Luneng
- 2021: Wuhan
- 2021: China Men’s National Team
- 1995, 1999, and 2004: Chinese FA Cup Winners
- 1999: Chinese Jia-A League Champions
- 2004: Chinese Super League Cup Winners