FIRST issues first: it’s now not Nico Yennaris however Li Ke.
Nico Yennaris, now Li Ke, has turn into the first-ever naturalised participant to play for China
He gave up his British passport because the world’s most populated nation prohibits twin nationality on becoming a member of Beijing Guoan final yr and now has 5 caps for his adopted nation.
The 27-year-old instructed SunSport: “To be trustworthy, I’m undecided what the identify means. I used to be given it once I moved right here.
“I didn’t truly know my identify had formally modified till I arrived. It was a little bit of a shock however I’m blissful and proud to have a Chinese language identify.
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“Everybody says it’s an honest identify. Li is sort of a typical identify in China. I’m used to folks calling me it now.
“Some folks nonetheless name me Nico. Some name me Li Ke but it surely’s extra followers who will name me by my Chinese language identify.”
Li was eligible for China by means of his mom who was born there however speaks Cantonese, somewhat than Mandarin which her son is making an attempt to study.
Some folks would agonise over a call to waive their British citizenship however the former England youth star didn’t hesitate.
He defined: “I used to be in all probability probably the most relaxed and most calm about it out of everybody. I feel folks round me have been nervous as a result of it hadn’t been achieved earlier than.
The previous Arsenal and Brentford teen performs for Beijing Guoan
“However my considering was football-based: I used to be progressing and if that’s what it takes to play worldwide soccer, let’s go along with it.
“I simply made my determination there after which. I didn’t actually dwell on it. I needed to play for China.”
It’s honest to say Li has not regarded again since, absolutely embracing Chinese language tradition and changing into one thing of a celeb on the market.
At membership stage, he has gone from the Championship to enjoying in entrance of 60,000 supporters — till Covid-19 restricted crowds.
And he realised his worldwide dream after making his China debut in a 2-0 pleasant win over the Philippines on June 7 final yr.
Li is often noticed and requested for photos when out and about however finds individuals are at all times “well mannered and pleasant”.
He even has his personal fan membership, a couple of thousand sturdy, who chat on-line, put up updates about him and convey banners depicting their hero to matches.
Regardless of his fame, he’s blissful to be out in public, spending a lot of his spare time exploring seemingly never- ending Beijing on his scooter.
Li defined: “It’s so huge, you may at all times discover someplace new. You get a mixture of the previous and the brand new.
“Whenever you undergo sure areas, you see the historical past of the nation with the structure and the element in a few of the framework.
“Then you may drive half an hour in one other course and it’s such as you’re residing in 2024 with how trendy it’s.
“The way of life right here may be very relaxed, regardless of there being so many individuals. In London, everyone seems to be head down, 100 miles an hour. It feels actually busy however right here it’s extra relaxed.
Li Ke has already picked up 5 caps for China after giving up his British passport
“Buildings go up quickly out right here. You’ll be able to positively see and sense the sensation of development throughout the nation.”
And that development seems to increase to the soccer pitch too.
The Chinese language Tremendous League has been dwelling to many world stars for a number of years now, at the moment boasting the likes of former Chelsea star Oscar, Marouane Fellaini of Everton and Manchester United and Marko Arnautovic, who performed for Stoke and West Ham.
Li’s trailblazing has led to extra naturalisations together with Brazilians Alan and Elkerson, in addition to former Everton child Tyias Browning, 26, now often called Jiang Guangtai.
One other former Toffee, Li Tie, is the present nationwide supervisor, succeeding Marcelo Lippi completely earlier this yr.
The ex-Sheffield United midfielder is trying to rework the nation’s soccer repute as minnows by making them diligent and troublesome to beat.
Li Ke added: “Coming right here has opened my eyes to the extent. I feel there are homegrown gamers right here who may do properly in Europe, like Wu Lei is doing for Espanyol.
“We’re second in our World Cup qualifying group so we have to win all our video games now to offer ourselves the very best probability of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. If we do qualify, I’d hope we may spring a shock there.
“I positively really feel we might give a very good account of ourselves and will change the stereotype and notion of Chinese language soccer.”
Li was given the last word soccer training as a teen by coming by means of Arsenal’s academy.
And he feels that’s the space the sport in China must develop if they’re at some point to turn into a real World Cup contender.
The previous Wycombe loanee defined: “I hope they proceed to develop the academies right here the way in which they’ve been and that it’s one thing sustainable sooner or later.
“I positively really feel in the event that they proceed to try this it’ll give them an incredible probability to compete as a result of there are such a lot of folks right here and a lot expertise that may be discovered.”