Fresh from scoring his first goal in the Hyundai A-League for Newcastle Jets, Chinese attacker Ma Leilei hopes increased game time and performances for Mark Jones’ men can help place him on the radar of China’s national team manager, Marcello Lippi.
27-year-old Ma has represented China at a variety of youth levels in the past, and today the former Tianjin Teda player spoke of his burning desire to one day fulfil his childhood dream of representing Longzhi Dui (‘Team Dragon’).
While Ma’s aspiration may seem ambitious to many, the midfielder believes being one of just two Chinese players plying their trade in top professional divisions across the globe can be his point of difference when compared to other players that the Italian World Cup winning coach may consider.
“If I just wanted to make money I wouldn’t have chosen to play in Portugal or to come to Australia,” Ma said with assistance from Jets staff member Rocky Liu. “My goal is to play more games so I can attract the attention of the China National Team Manager, (Marcello) Lippi.”
“That is my final goal, to join the National Team and play for China. When I was a young player I played under 15s, under 17s, under 19s and under 23s for China, but I haven’t been in the senior team which is why I have chosen to play overseas.”
“Sure, the Chinese Super League (CSL) has big names and big money players, but I feel the (Hyundai) A-League is stronger, faster, and more physical.”
“I hope I can do better, impress, and encourage more and more (Chinese) players to come here. The A-League is a very good league. I want to be a support to them (Chinese players) and in time maybe more of them will give up higher salaries to chase their goals,” he said.
Ma’s strike in the Jets’ 4-2 loss to Melbourne Victory in Geelong on Monday gained widespread media attention in his homeland.
Leading news outlets Sohu and Sina reported on the goal, as did CCTV-5, the nation’s main sports broadcaster.
Ma said much of the focus of the reports had been about him being the first Chinese player to score a professional goal in 2017.
“CCTV-5 and all over China the media explored the news,” he said. “I think that’s good for me, good for Newcastle, and good for the team.”
“I was the first Chinese player to score a goal in 2017. There are only two Chinese players playing (in top divisions) overseas. There is one (Zhang Yuning) in the Netherlands, and the other one is me playing in Australia.”
“Maybe there is more focus on players who play overseas.”
Zhang Yuning is a 19-year-old striker who plays for Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie. In November last year he featured for Lippi in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier against Qatar in Kunming.
Next week the 2017 China Cup - a friendly tournament involving China, Iceland, Croatia and Chile - will take place at the Guangxi Sports Centre in the city of Nanning. There another foreign-based player, Wang Jingbin, who is on loan at Japanese second division side Fagiano Okayama, will aim to impress Lippi.
Other than Zhang and Wang, no other players playing outside of China have yet been considered by the experienced, and undoubtedly methodical Marcello Lippi. Might Ma be next?