Li Sirong, son of the former Chinese footballer Li Ming (Photo/Xinhua)
HONG KONG, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) — When former Chinese international Li Ming retired in 2005, he said that football had brought him “the most amazing experience” in his life. 15 years on, a similar “amazing experience” was handed down to his son, who has embarked on the same path as his father.
Last month, Li’s son Li Sirong, who turns 18 later this year, signed a professional contract with Dutch top flight club ADO Den Haag.
In Chinese, the character Si in his name means “inherit”.
“Like father, like son”. It is especially true for Li, who also plays on the right-hand side of the pitch. But unlike his father, who was a cool-headed midfielder with good crossing technique, Li plays as a defender.
Football has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. Six years ago, he was sent to the Netherlands, where he was accepted into the academy of Eredivisie side Den Haag.
“Over the past five years, I grew strong and improved my skills and understanding of football. I think I now can observe the game from the Dutch perspective,” Li says.
“There are so many good footballers,” he adds. “If I don’t work hard, I would soon fall behind.”
Li said that some of his teammates started learning football as young as four years old. “They are more skillful than me,” he admits.
But he has his own advantage. “My physical condition is good and I like using my mind on the pitch,” says the teenager.
During his stay in the Netherlands, he learned English and Dutch. The experience has also changed his perception on football.
“The club taught us how to behave, and how to respect others,” Li says.
Respect is also something that Li Ming emphasized a lot while his son was growing up. “When he was small, I would ask him to apologize whenever he made mistakes,” recalls his father. “Respect should be on top of the list of a club’s culture.”
Therefore, despite his self-confidence, Li Sirong was told that he should always be humble and keep a low profile.
After signing his contract, however, Li found he had created a buzz online.
Around two decades ago, the handsome Ming was hailed as the “Chinese David Beckham” by his fans, with his son also attracting public attention with his appearance.
Li Ming said he was worried after receiving lots of interview requests from media for Sirong.
“We are not yet well prepared for this,” he says. “As a former football player, I know how big the pressure is. So I told Sirong that when something is inevitable, you must learn to face up to it. In the future, you maybe praised, or condemned. Whatever happens, you must be ready.”
“So from this perspective, it is a good thing,” he adds. “It makes him see clearly what society is like.”
To his satisfaction, the younger Li doesn’t appear concerned with the trappings of fame. “I am too busy to think about it.” Like many Chinese teenagers his age, he would like to attend university.
“I will have an exam in May,” he says. “Although my priority is football, I don’t want to give up my curriculum. Even if I can’t go to the best university in the Netherlands, I will try my best.”
Talking about his future, Li Sirong plans to take things step by step. “First, of course, I must be worthy of a contract,” he says.
When Li Ming retired, it was not without regret: he wasn’t selected to play for China at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the only time that China has appeared at football’s showpiece international tournament.
Now his son inherited his dream.
“The story of my dad always encouraged me to become a better football player,” he continued. “I will work hard to earn a place in the Chinese national team.”