Born: 30 September 1977, Zhuange, China
Age in 2005: 28
Premier League Clubs: Manchester City (2002-2008)
Rarely will you find a one-club man on this list. Usually, our classic Premier League players are journeymen, nomads who appear all over England’s top division, (mildly) liked by fans everywhere. But exceptions have to be made, and Sun Jihai is that exception.
Signing for Man City from Dalian Shide in 2002 for a whopping £2m, making him the first ever Asian player to wear the sky blue shirt (and also play football in it). He became a fan’s favourite almost instantly, with one supporter claiming to remember his debut like it was yesterday.
“I remember his debut like it was yesterday,” he said.
(Above: Referee Paul Durkin threatens to decapitate Sun and Birmingham's Christophe Duggary)
His first goal came in a 2-0 win over Birmingham, which earned him the prestigious Manchester City Player of the Month Award for September. It is important to note here, however, that this was back when his competition for such an award came from the likes of Shaun Goater and Darren Huckerby, rather than Kevin De Bruyne.
Picking up a cruciate ligament injury at the start of the 2004/05 campaign, Sun worked tirelessly on a strict training regime set up by his father to ensure his swift return to City’s lineup. The relatively untried techniques worked wonders, as Sun found himself injured once more the following season.
(Above: Fellow classic Paul Konchesky leapfrogs Sun's attempted tackle)
Back from the sidelines once more in 2007, Sun’s return came in a 2-1 loss to Portsmouth, a result that would bring in managerial change at Eastlands. After an outstanding World Cup draining every ounce of talent from England’s most gifted squad in years, Sven was back in football.
One of the Three Lions' finest managers decided 'Here Comes the Sun' was not good enough for his City side and slowly began phasing the Chinese star out of his squad. He brought in Vedran Corluka and even preferred having West End superstar Michael Ball on the bench.
'Sunny Disposition' could tell his time at Man City was coming to an end. His last appearances for the club came in an outstanding 8-1 loss to Middlesbrough.
In fact it was not until he retired that Sun Jihai earned the finest accolade of his career. In one of those beautiful coincidences that happen so rarely, Sun’s induction into the Premier League ‘Hall Of Fame’ in 2015, alongside fellow greats Eric Cantona and Gary Lineker, fell on the same weekend as a state visit from Chinese president Xi Jinping. What are the chances?
(Above: When Manchester City and Manchester United had players like Sun Jihai and Mikel Silvestre)
David Cameron appeared notably star-struck next to the Man City lege…player, who stood proudly by a list of his footballing achievements. The record-breaking Gary Neville, whose equivalent list includes being England’s most-capped right-back, pales into insignificance next to Sun’s impressive stats, such as: ‘was part of China's 2002 World Cup squad.’
Since retirement, Sun Jihai has been a relentless force in Chinese football, inspiring the country’s young stars and setting up multiple academies around the country. Despite only playing for one club, his 180 appearances and subsequent induction into the Premier League ‘Hall of Fame’ make him an obvious choice for this most prestigious of lists.
Where is he now?
Currently coaches the Chinese national team alongside Marcelo Lippi.
What did he say?
“I remember my first own goal very well indeed.”
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