Arriving in Brazil, Chinese footballer Long Yushuo took on the more easily pronounced name Thomas, but it's the locals' skills with the ball that he's really hoping to adopt. Thomas, 16, is one of a squad of youth players from Chinese team Shandong Luneng dispatched to polish their game at Desportivo Brasil club in Porto Feliz, near Sao Paulo, which Shandong bought in 2014.
The idea is that the 36,000-kilometer round-trip will enable these youngsters to bring back something that all the money and desire in China's burgeoning football scene cannot otherwise get, Brazilian footballing magic. When Thomas and another 22 players from the under-16 side arrived from Jinan, capital of Shandong province, in April, they knew little of Brazil. Along with football practice, they study Portuguese in the quiet town of 50,000 people. But Thomas, who picked his name in honor of Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller, is clear about what his principal lesson has been in Porto Feliz.
"Technique," he said, alongside his teammates, who all wore Shandong's orange strip.
China may not have much footballing pedigree but, encouraged by President Xi Jinping and lavish spending, it is working to catch up quickly. Luneng, a subsidiary of the chief national electricity company, is one of the big investors in the expansion plan, which has made China the world's fifth-biggest transfer market in 2016. Of all the foreign imports to the Super League, the 21 Brazilian players comprise the biggest contingent. The national team, though, has yet to see much benefit. China lags in 60th place in FIFA rankings and did not qualify for next year's World Cup. So China's strategists decided to try to unpick the secrets of Brazilian football so that the next generation can get the missing edge.
"This exchange was created so that they can achieve a similar quality to that of the players here," Desportivo Brasil Technical Coordinator, Rodrigo Pignataro told AFP.
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