Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder José Paulo Bezerra Maciel Júnior, also commonly known as Paulinho, returned to China on a chartered plane on Tuesday.
Chinese state media Xinhua reported that the 31-year-old Brazilian player was spotted wearing a face mask at the Guangzhou airport. It is also reported that Paulinho will go through a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, before joining his teammates in Guangzhou for the 2020 Chinese Super League (CSL) tournament.
Paulinho was the only passenger on the chartered plane, despite the fact that the flight was also intended for his teammate Andrewson Talisca. Talisca was not able to catch the flight because of domestic travel restrictions in Brazil.
The return of Paulinho took place after another CSL team Dalian Professional F.C charted a plane from Sweden for its three players and team head coach earlier last week. Salomón Rondón, Sam Larsson, and Marcus Danielson took a private business jet from Sweden together with Dalian Pro Manager Rafael Benítez directly to Dalian. The latest move implied the possibilities for professional athletes to be waived from China’s travel restrictions against foreign passport holders since March.
Chinese sports journalist Bai Guohua reported earlier that foreign coaches and players may apply to enter China, even under the current travel restrictions still in place. Bai claimed that teams with foreign passport holders will need to seek approval from local and provincial authorities to obtain valid work visas to enable these players to be admitted at the Chinese border.
Bai Guohua further revealed the processes for Guangzhou Evergrande to seek permission to bring back Paulinho and Talisca in a more detailed story. Bai claimed that it took one and a half months for the 8-time CSL champion to obtain permissions from local authorities in Guangzhou and provincial authorities in Guangdong.
Authorities in Guangdong ultimately granted the two Brazilian players permission to return to China. Yet for teams based in other provincial jurisdictions, the application process to bring back their foreign players may not be as easy.
One source who is familiar with Guangzhou Evergrande’s application processes said that the success of Guangzhou Evergrande may not apply to other teams: “The province of Guangzhou is at the frontline of China’s economic reforms, and will fully executive public health orders and reopen the economy under the leadership of the Chinese central government. It takes political responsibilities to support enterprises to resume work and production.”
Sina Sports reported earlier that there are 36 foreign players from more than 20 countries who have yet to return to China. CSL team Qingdao Huanghai F.C. was forced to terminate its contract with its former head coach Juanma Lillo.
The Chinese Football Association has yet to be able to produce a reopening match that all parties agree to. And the CSL is not able to confirm a date for starting its tournament. Officials from the Chinese Football Association are under pressure to start the country’s top-level professional football league sooner than later.
The Asian Football Confederation announced the dates for the remaining four games in the round 2 of the Asia World Cup qualification tournament earlier in June. China will play two games in October and another two games in November for an opportunity to advance to the next round for an opportunity to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. China is currently placed 2nd with four games left in the round 2 competition. With 2 wins, 1 draw, and 1 loss from the previous four games. China now has 7 points, trailing the group leader Syria by 8 points.
There are 40 teams in this stage of the competition and these teams are divided into 8 groups. 8 group winners will directly enter the third round of qualification, while the 4 best group runner-ups will also qualify for the next round of the World Cup qualification tournament. If the 2022 FIFA World Cup host finishes round 2 as either a group winner or one of the best four group runner-ups, the fifth-best group runner-up will then qualify for round 3. The final four games will be crucial for China to either attempt to become the group winner in its Group A or secure its spot to the subsequent round by becoming one of the best four group runner-ups.
The majority of the Chinese national team players are playing for professional clubs in the CSL. These players will need to remain active to prepare if they want to perform well in the qualification games later this year. A confirmed schedule of the upcoming CSL season will also be beneficial for all players to plan for their time in the following months and the qualifier games.
China is now the only country in East Asia without a specific date to restart its professional football league. The latest reports from Chinese media Soccer News say that the CSL will not be able to restart before July 18. Two Chinese cities, Dalian and Suzhou, may be selected as the venues for the tournament to take place.