Former Arsenal midfielder becomes China’s first naturalised player


Beijing Guoan’s midfielder Li Ke will become the first naturalised player ever to enter the Chinese men’s national football team as head coach Marcello Lippi released the new 24-man squad on Thursday.

The former Arsenal and Brentford player Li, whose English name is Nicholas Yennaris, joined the Chinese Super League side in January this year and in doing so opted to renounce his UK passport and become a Chinese citizen.

The legendary Italian coach Lippi, who has been re-appointed head coach of the Chinese men’s national team last Friday, has selected Li and his five Guoan teammates in his new 24-man squad, which gives the 26-year-old London-born the historic opportunity to be the first naturalized player to wear the Team Dragon jersey.

Li Ke

Li was born, to a father of Cypriot origin and a mother of Chinese origin, and raised in Leytonstone, the same part of London as David Beckham, and he played in the same Arsenal youth team as England skipper Harry Kane.

He spent a decade at the academy of the English Premier League side and made four first team appearances for the Gunners, including a half against Manchester United in 2012.

After brief loan spells with Notts County and Bournemouth, Li joined Brentford and he played 157 times for the Bees. He has scored twice in eight games since moving to China.

The Londoner also represented England at under-17, under-18 and under-19 level.

It is his mother’s side of the family through which he was eligible to play for China and after turning 26 last week, his first birthday as a Chinese national, Li is expected to make his international debut.

He already became the first naturalised player to score in the Chinese Super League and other records are set to tumble.

Li Ke Greatwall

“It’s the first in the CSL by a naturalised player so it’s something that I can be proud of. For me, it’s a great honour,” he told CCTV after his first goal for Beijing Guoan.

He has endeared himself to fans by belting out the national anthem before Beijing Guoan games.

“I hope to help Chinese football,” he said in another interview. “And hopefully one day I can play for the national team as well and we will try to get to a World Cup.”

That day looks set to be either June 7 or June 11 when Lippi’s side will take on the Philippines and Kyrgyzstan.


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