Corinthians, Brazil's second most popular club with an estimated 24 million supporters, are trying to increase that number by signing Chen Zhizhao, a 23-year-old midfielder who will be the Brazilian Serie A's first ever Chinese player.
With no international caps and previous stints in the Hong Kong first division and Chinese Super League, Chen -- already renamed simply "Zizao" by the Brazilians -- might seem a curious signing for Corinthians from a footballing perspective. As the AP reports, the idea to sign him didn't come from the club's scouts or coaches, but the marketing department "hoping he will help the team expand its brand into the Asian country."
Pandering to the Chinese market is nothing new for football clubs, though -- particularly in Europe, where Premier League and Italian Serie A sides play preseason friendlies and super cups in China and Spain's La Liga even schedules earlier kick-off times to appeal to Chinese viewers.
This isn't the first time Corinthians' marketing department have led the way on a player signing, either. In 2009, they urged the club to sign injury-plagued Brazilian legend Ronaldo, who scored 18 goals in 31 matches and won two trophies with the club before retiring in 2011. And though the business people led the way in bringing Zizao to Corinthians, the clubs assured Globo that they would not have a say in how, when or where he plays.
Zizao previously trained with Portuguese second division side Trofense, so he knows a it of Portuguese as well as English. More importantly, he has some skills on the pitch and appears to be something of a free kick specialist. Highlights this way...