Reports that Chelsea are to sign Guangzhou Evergrande and China defender Zhang Linpeng will doubtless be read in some quarters as a move that is more about tapping the famously fertile ‘Asian market’ than improving the Blues’ backline.
In the past the underwhelming performances of left-field south-east-asian signings made by the Premier League’s biggest sides has led some to foster such a spurious mindset.
The failures of Dong Fangzhuo, who played three times for Manchester United after three seasons on loan at Red Devils feeder club Royal Antwerp and South Korean Park Chu Yong (six appearances for Arsenal across four seasons under their ownership) fed into what was essentially an outdated attitude towards players from the region.
Plucking Japanese, Chinese or South Korean talent from obscurity is a move that ultimately only becomes cynical and cash-driven retrospectively, if the footballers in question fail.
Nobody accused Crystal Palace of Asia-annexing Machiavellianism when Sun Jihai went on to become a first-team staple, just as Ki Sung-yeung’s move from FC Seoul to Celtic was never about marketability as soon as he became integral to the team.
All-but-done Chelsea deal Zhang will certainly be in at the deep end when he finally turns up at Stamford Bridge after being loaned back to the Chinese club for the rest of the campaign.
However, at least one shrewd judge earmarked him as having the quality to play in one of Europe’s top leagues three years ago.
Marcelo Lippi may have been being lighthearted in his oft-repeated comparison of the centre-half to Sergio Ramos; made when the World Cup, Champions League and Serie A-winning coach first turned up at Guangzhou in 2012.
Yet Narciso Pezzotti, Lippi’s right-hand man since 1994, had been scouting the club’s players for two months by that stage and had little hesitation in marking out the now-26-year-old as a talent, telling reporters “No. 5 [Zhang] has the potential to play in one of Europe’s top leagues”.
No mean statement from a man who has had the pleasure of working with some of the finest defenders the game has produced over the last two decades: Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta to name but three.
Under the Italian he has become central to the cause during a successful spell which has seen the club win the Chinese Super League and Asian Champions League.
Linked with a move to Inter back in July, it seems that there are those who believe that Perrotti’s 2012 prophecy wasn’t that far wide of the mark.