There has been a lot of big-name signings made by Chinese clubs over the last 24 months, with the likes of Oscar, Ramires, Hulk, Jackson Martinez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Gervinho all moving to the burgeoning Chinese Super League.

But the most significant signing, ironically enough, was the one that probably generated the least amount of fanfare, and he didn’t come from Europe or South America – he was already in China.

In his three years at Guangzhou Evergrande, Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, known to most as simply Elkeson, was a goal scoring machine. Twice the former Vitória and Botafogo man won the CSL Golden Boot and twice he scored decisive goals to help Guangzhou Evergrande seal the 2013 and 2015 AFC Champions League titles. In total he registered 74 goals in 101 appearances for the Cantonese club.

His goal against Al Ahli in the 2015 AFC Champions League final, a typically brilliant goal in which he turned his opponent before firing home with the outside of his boot, was his last great act as a Guangzhou player.

In normal circumstances, scoring the winning goal in a Champions League final will see your contract extended. Instead, Elkeson’s career took a different path, and just two months after helping Guangzhou seal a second continental title and a fifth-consecutive CSL title, he was sold, and not just to any team, to Guangzhou’s biggest title rivals, Shanghai SIPG.

“For the purpose of supporting Chinese teams to compete in the AFC Champions League, and for national glory, we agreed Elkeson’s transfer to Shanghai SIPG,” Guangzhou announced in a remarkable statement at the time. How many clubs would sell their best striker to their biggest rivals ‘for the greater good’?

While Guangzhou had the last laugh in 2016, romping to a sixth-straight CSL title and finishing a full 12 points clear of Shanghai SIPG, this season is proving to be much more difficult.

As it stands, Guangzhou has just a one point lead over their rivals from Shanghai. In their most recent meeting a fortnight ago, Shanghai twice came from behind to take a point in a thrilling 2-2 draw. As luck would have it, the two teams meet again in a few weeks and on a much bigger stage, the quarter finals of the AFC Champions League.

Speaking exclusively to Football Today, Elkeson said he was looking forward to meeting, and hopefully beating, his former team.

“I have already played them in the CSL and it was very good to meet my friends again,” the 28-year-old said. “I left in Guangzhou people that will always treat me kindly and with respect (and) because of that I have great admiration for the club and their supporters.

“I am sure it will be another great meeting with them and I hope Shanghai can emerge the winner. We need to have a lot of respect for everything that Guangzhou has been building in the last years in Asian football, but we are working hard to overcome them.”

Overcoming Guangzhou will be a significant milestone for Shanghai, who haven’t beaten the Chinese giants in their 12 previous meetings. It’s a barrier, a mental one as much as anything, and one they will have to overcome if they want to dethrone the kings.

And there are now growing questions over Shanghai’s mentality given their inability to twice capitalise on a Guangzhou loss this season, which had they done so would see them five points clear at the top of the table.

“We are happy for what we have built until now, but we know there is still a long road until we reach our objectives,” he said.

“When the offer from Shanghai came, one of the main projects was to put an end on Guangzhou's hegemony here in China. Our team has evolved a lot since last year and I believe we will keep evolving until the end of the season.”

Elkeson credits a large part of Shanghai’s improved form this season to the signings of two other Brazilians, Oscar and Hulk.

“We are talking about two great players who would certainly be valuable to any team in the world,” he explained.

“I already knew Hulk as we played together in Vitória and I already knew of his potential.

“Oscar is a star who opted for leaving England and believing in our project of becoming a giant in Asian football. Their coming to Shanghai helped us to strengthen our team and I am sure they will help us to win titles this season.”

As has been the case since he first arrived in China in 2013, Elkeson continues to bang in the goals. This season he has eight goals in 11 matches domestically, with a further five goals in nine matches in the ACL.

While others, with far more impressive resumes, have come to China and failed, that is not the case with Elkeson, who says the only secret to his success is hard work.

“I don't believe there is a secret,” he said. “I believe that a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of desire to win will help you achieve your goals.

“Since I decided to sign my transfer to Shanghai, I’ve worked hard every day to become stronger and to evolve as a person and as a professional. Everything I’ve achieved here in China I’ve earned by my sweat and I still want to win a lot of things in this country.”

That’s not to say he didn’t find the initial move to China difficult.

“In the beginning it was a bit harder, but I adapted quickly to the country thanks to the help of some Brazilians that were already here (at Guangzhou).

“Guangzhou and now Shanghai are friendly cities, there are a lot of options for restaurants, shopping centres and all of that makes life easier here in China. The culture is a bit different from what I am used to in Brazil, but I did not let it become an obstacle for me.”

In his five years in China, not much has proven to be an obstacle for talismanic striker, but one giant obstacle stands in his and Shanghai’s way this season – Guangzhou Evergrande.

It’s proven insurmountable so far, but if he can lead Shanghai SIPG past the behemoth that is Guangzhou Evergrande this season – domestically and in Asia – then his legend in China will be etched in stone.

Categories: People | Asia

elkeson, csl, shanghai sipg, guangzhou evergrande

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