Asia 50 Exclusives: Zheng Zhi

Zheng Zhi has enjoyed an incredibly successful career, on both a club and personal level. He also rose from No.43 in last year's Asia 50 all the way to the top 20 in 2016. And he stopped by for a chat with FourFourTwo...

Midfielder Zheng Zhi started his journey in the top division of Chinese football with Shenzhen Ping’an back in 2001.

No matter what position I get on this list, it must be based on my team’s success.

In 2004, he won the inaugural Chinese Super League (CSL) championship with Shenzhen Jianlibao (formerly Shenzhen Ping’an) and spent the following season with Shandong Luneng before moving abroad.

He first signed with English Premier League side Charlton Athletic and then spent time with Scottish giants Celtic before returning to China in 2010 to join Guangzhou Evergrande.

From 2011-15, Zheng and Guangzhou Evergrande dominated the CSL, collecting five consecutive league titles. More importantly, Zheng captained Guangzhou to victory in the 2013 AFC Champions League final, China’s first ever success in that competition.

Zheng takes great pride in captaining his country

That led to him winning that year’s AFC Asian Footballer of the Year award. After being named in FourFourTwo's Asia 50 for a second straight year, the 35-year-old joined us for a chat.

FFT: Congratulations on being named No.19 on our second annual Asia 50! I’m not sure if you are aware that you were No.43 last year, so you’ve made a big step up this year. What do you think of that?

FACTBOX

  • Date of birth: August 20, 1980
  • Place of birth: Shenyang, Liaoning, China
  • Height: 1.80m
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Current club: Guangzhou Evergrande

Zheng: Of course I’m very happy. I see it as a compliment for my hard work this year. However, thanks to our team as a unit who had so much success and everyone in the team should be credited for their hard work. In my opinion, no matter what position I get on this list, it must be based on my team’s success.

FFT: Are you happy with your form in general over the past 12 months?

Zheng: Yes, very much. Working hard as an individual player to help my team win trophies always makes me feel happy.

We managed to win five CSL champions in a row and a second AFC Champions League title. So I am really happy and lucky to win theses titles and also satisfied with my own form last year.

FFT: You are still playing at a very high level at the age of 35. Did you think in your earlier years that you would enjoy such a long career?

Zheng: Well, how do I put it … I did think about extending my career, but to be honest, I did not think about it under a specific set of circumstances. I just keep it in mind to try to extend my career as long as possible and maintain good form.

Brazilian great Luiz Felipe Scolari is the current Guangzhou manager

To put it another way, I did have this in mind and made some effort toward this target. Now I am realising it step by step and hopefully I can keep this good momentum.

FFT: How is your body holding up and do you feel like you still have unfinished business on the pitch? Have you ever thought about what you’d like to do in the future once you finish playing?

Zheng: At the moment, I feel quite good physically. Hopefully I can keep this good form and compete at this level for two or three more years. Then I have to face the reality that one day I can’t compete anymore and I have to leave my beloved pitch.

After that, I may not leave football, and I am not quite sure what I’d like to do, so let’s just wait and see.

On page two Zheng talks about his career highlights, his national team and big-name CSL signings