Blues beyond the Great Wall
#ALLINCFC Wed 11 Jan 2017
With Oscar scoring on his first appearance for Shanghai SIPG and John Mikel Obi joining him in China with Tianjin TEDA, here's how some other former Blues got on in that country...
While Mikel is still awaiting his first chance to show his new supporters what he can do ahead of the start of their season in March, Oscar was thrown straight into the action as a substitute in a friendly against Saudi Arabian side Al Batin. He made a quick impression by sweeping in a loose ball to open the scoring, before being fouled for the free-kick from which his team-mate Lu Wenjun got the winner in a 2-1 victory.
'I only trained for two days and this is my first game,' said Oscar. 'This is the start of a new season and we had only one goal, which was to win the game. My team-mates played very well today. The Chinese guys tried to help us integrate. It's difficult to have a good game in such a short time but they made it happen.'
The former Chelsea midfielder seemed pretty pleased with the start he has made, but how did the other ex-Blues who have played in the Chinese Super League do on the pitch?
The most recent Brazilian to make the move from west London to the Far East before this month was Ramires, who joined Jiangsu Suning a year ago. He didn't enjoy quite as good a debut as his countryman Oscar, receiving a red card in injury time, but he did help his side to win that Asian Champions League tie 3-2 against South Korea's Jeonbuk Motors.
There were no such problems in the Chinese Super League itself, though, as Ramires scored just three minutes into his first match in that competition as they beat Shandong Luneng 3-0. He never looked back, his partnership with fellow Brazilian Alex Teixeira going a long way to helping Jiangsu Suning finish in second place last season.
The Senegalese striker joined Shanghai Shenhua halfway through the 2015 Chinese Super League season and ended his debut campaign with a respectable six goals in 11 appearances, although that figure was helped by a hat-trick on the last day in a 3-1 win over Jiangsu Sainty. He scored the same amount again in that season's cup, finishing the competition as top scorer and being named it's best player, despite being on the losing side in the final.
His first full season in China started very promisingly, with 14 goals in the opening 18 games, including two more hat-tricks, but was cut short by a horrific broken leg suffered in the Shanghai derby in July. He still finished as the division's second-highest scorer and will be hoping to return in 2017 to form potentially the division's most ominous strike force, alongside new signing Carlos Tevez and another former Newcastle forward, Obafemi Martins.
Nicolas Anelka was one of the first big-name players from Europe to make the switch to the Chinese Super League, signing for Shanghai Shenhua in January 2012. The Frenchman is another who enjoyed an impressive debut, scoring just 40 seconds into a friendly against Hunan Billows, and found the net again on his first Asian Champions League appearance.
Although the rest of his year in China brought mixed fortunes, Anelka took on a role first coaching and then managing the team in an effort to revive their fortunes. He also caused havoc among opposition defences in the second half of 2012 alongside another former Chelsea player, in a strike force that looked very familiar to Blues fans, before returning to Europe with Juventus.
The player who partnered Anelka in both west London and Shanghai was of course Blues legend Didier Drogba, who bid a glorious farewell to Stamford Bridge after his 2012 Champions League final heroics and moved to Shenhua. It initially looked like the duo would enjoy as much success in the Super League as they had in the Premier League, as Anelka set up Drogba's first four goals for Shenhua, all scored in August. But when the Shanghai side's title bid evaporated in the closing stages of the season, Drogba also decided to head back to Europe in January 2013, signing for Galatasaray.
The French winger may never have made the breakthrough at Chelsea, playing only a handful of first-team matches before departing Stamford Bridge, but Gael Kakuta enjoyed a promising first season in the Chinese Super League in 2016. The 25-year-old was a regular for newly promoted Hebei China Fortune as the ambitious club finished in the top half of the table on their top-flight debut, and will be hoping for big things in 2017 with former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini now in charge.
Two former Chelsea managers have tried their hand at leading clubs in the Chinese Super League, although it is too soon to pass judgement on Andre Villas-Boas' time there as he prepares to embark on his first full campaign with Shanghai SIPG, where he count Oscar among his players.
One man who has already proven his managerial credentials in China is Luiz Felipe Scolari. The Brazilian's two seasons in charge of Guangzhou Evergrande have seen him win back-to-back league titles, as well as lifting the Asian Champions League trophy in 2015, meaning he will be the man to beat again in 2017.
One man planning to end Scolari's dominance is Gus Poyet. Demba Ba's Shanghai Shenhua have hired the former Blues midfielder as manager ahead of the 2017 season and the Uruguayan will be hoping to emulate the success of one of his old Chelsea team-mates, Dan Petrescu, who led Jiangsu Sainty to glory in the Chinese Cup in 2015, the Romanian's only season in the country.