England-born Nico Yennaris becomes first overseas player called up to China's national squad

The 26-year-old is known as 'Li Ke' in China

Former Arsenal and Brentford midfielder Nico Yennaris has been called up to the Chinese national team, making him the first overseas-born player to represent the country should he feature in the upcoming friendlies against the Philippines and Tajikistan.

Yennaris, who began his career as a trainee with Arsenal in 2001, left the Emirates in 2014 having made just one senior appearance for the Gunners - a League Cup win over Shrewsbury Town in 2011. The now-26-year-old spent two short spells on loan at Notts County and Bournemouth before officially departing north London, but only made two appearances for the Magpies and didn't feature at all for Bournemouth; he joined Brentford permanently five years ago.

Yennaris's career took off in south London, he made 144 appearances at Griffin Park, scoring 12 goals for the Bees, but moved to Chinese Super League outfit Beijing Guoan in January for a fresh challenge in East Asia. Since moving to China the midfielder has been granted Chinese citizenship, making him eligible for selection for the national side.

Known as Li Ke in China, Yennaris is also eligible to represent Cyprus at international level through his father, but will now link up with Marcello Lippi's 'Team Dragon' squad ahead of their forthcoming friendly matches in June. Next month's matches are a warm-up for the World Cup 2022 qualifiers which take place in September, and should Yennaris impress the Italian then it looks likely he will become a part of a China team attempting to reach their first World Cup since 2002.

Though China have so far been reluctant to integrate overseas-born players into their squads for previous tournaments, their lack of progression in recent years has called for a change of action. With many footballers now moving to the up-and-coming Chinese Super League, from various different countries, there seems to be a shift in thinking, with Yennaris the first beneficial. Beijing Guoan's John Hou Saeter and Guangzhou Evergrande's Tyias Browning - both born overseas - are expected to follow in the 26-year-old's footsteps in the near future.

It is not just players of Chinese descent who stand a chance of being called up to the national team, however, with Brazilian-born duo Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso and Ricardo Goulart Pereira both "in the process" of obtaining Chinese citizenships, according to local media.

It has been reported that Lippi's reappointment as China's head coach - just four months after leaving the same post in January - includes a condition that he must start to introduce at lease some naturalised players into the squad within 119 days; whether he can do this, though, still remains to be seen.


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