Eccentric Guangzhou Evergrande striker
1 June ~ Known for driving a pink Porsche, buying season tickets for fans and having a wife who posts racy photos of herself on the internet, Guangzhou Evergrande's Gao Lin is not a typical Chinese footballer. Having made his debut for Shanghai Shenhua as a teenager in 2005, Gao was soon talked about as a future star. However, after five seasons in Shanghai, he stunned the Chinese Super League (CSL) by signing with cash-flush Evergrande, then in China's second division, for considerably higher wages.
Scoring 20 times in 23 games, Gao helped to lift Evergrande back to the top tier but the striker remained tainted by his controversial exit from Shanghai. Even now Chinese football is divided on Gao, whose eccentricities are not to everyone's tastes. In 2012, after getting a needless red card for dissent in the first leg of the Chinese Cup final, he was fined £133,000 by his own team and later wrote a contrite apology to Evergrande's fans. This season, having scored in his 100th game for Guangzhou, Gao ran over to the crowd and appeared to give a straight-arm salute – a gesture not widely understood in China but still not seen as a smart thing to do.
Such incidents tend to take the focus away Gao's actual ability. Since Guangzhou returned to the CSL in 2011, no Chinese striker has scored more league goals than Gao. It was his long-range strike against Liaoning Whowin that clinched the league title for Evergrande last year and an excellent lobbed goal in a recent 3-0 victory over Shenhua is an early contender for goal of the season. That he continues to get significant playing time in a league where teams are built around their foreign strikers is an achievement in itself.
Despite being made captain of the national team recently, Gao will never be popular outside of Guangzhou. His self-aggrandising personality and the decision to drop down a division for a fatter pay cheque still rub many fans the wrong way. Chinese football does not have many anti-heroes but Gao is certainly one of them. Andrew Crawford