Du Wei No longer worse than Scheidt

Foreign centre halfs do not have a high affection rating among Celtic supporters. Daniel Majstorovic has few if any admirers and Glen Loovens little more. Bobo Balde’s time ended in tears. And Rafael Scheidt has a secure place in Celtic legend as the club’s worst signing ever.  But there is one ex-Celtic centre back whose recent international form might make some Celtic supporters wonder what might have been if the club tried a little harder to help him adapt.

Very few Celtic supporters ever saw Du Wei in first team action and those that did will not have happy memories of his one appearance. If he has any place in Celtic anecdotes, it will be as the one foreign centre back “Worse than Scheidt”, not the happiest accolade.

Yet there is good reason to believe that Du Wei is a much better defender than that title would indicate, and that maybe if Celtic had tried harder and been more supportive they might have ended up with centre half better than many of those who have failed to convince since he left five years ago.

Du Wei never survived his disastrous first team debut against Clyde

Du Wei had built a good reputation in China in the early part of the 21st Century, starring for China in the 2002 World Cup and appeared to be a class defender of top international status. Several European clubs were interested in signing him but in what was at the time seen as a coup for Celtic, he opted to come to Glasgow, in July 2005, on an initial short-term loan basis with the assumption that a big money transfer would soon follow. For a variety of reasons he never settled in this strange new environment. His one official game for the Celtic first team was the disastrous 2-1 defeat in the Scottish Cup to Clyde in January 2006. He had  a fairly disastrous first half, where his slip cost the first goal and then he later gave away a penalty. At half-time Manager Strachan pulled him off, and he never played for Celtic again, soon returning emotionally bruised and demoralised back to China.

DU Wei gets his hands on a Cup, at international level

Last year GGW informed readers (in articles of 1st and 2nd March and 4th May and 10th June ‘Du Wei confirms his world class status’) of the successful rehabilitation back in China of Du Wei. He captained China to triumph in the East Asian Championships before signing for Hangzhou Greentown, the Chinese team who play in green and white. Hangzhou had only retained their top league status despite finishing in the bottom two places because two teams including Guangzhou were relegated as a result of a previous match fixing scandal. Determined to take advantage of their reprieve Hangzhou invested in several better quality players, including Du Wei the national team captain. His performances in the East Asian Championship had restored his international reputation, and had given him that little extra belief in himself that transforms a good player into a great leader.

Made captain of Hangzhou Greentown he applied himself to the task of moulding their new signings into an effective team. After spending the first few weeks flirting with the relegation spots, Hangzhou Greentown under Du Wei’s determined leadership, slowly pulled themselves up to their target of mid table safety. Du Wei did not settle for achieving the goal he had been set but drove his team ever onwards and with 4 wins and a draw in their last 5 games, Hangzhou stunned Chinese football by claiming 4th spot in the final table ensuring a first ever qualification for the Asian Champions League for 2011.

The club were able to afford only a marginal strengthening of the team over the winter break and when the Asian Champions League came along, Hangzhou were outclassed in the Group Stages finishing well behind more experienced clubs from Korea and Japan. They started the 2011 Chinese League well but the strain of playing two games a week stretched a limited pool and this season they will probably not, even with another barnstorming finish, be qualifying for the Champions League again but have comfortably achieved the goal of mid-table safety. After Sunday’s 1-0 home victory over Jiansu Shuntian, with three more games to play they are in joint 5th place, 4 points off the 4th and final qualifying place. Du Wei once again has been their outstanding player.

Although their pool contains 3 good class Uruguayans, 2 talented Hondurans and an Australian internationalist, on Sunday Greentown put out a team consisting of 11 Chinese players. This was as unique in China as a Scottish Premier League team fielding 11 Scots, but shows the determination of the Hangzhou club to nurture their own local talent. In China as in everywhere in football, a pattern is beginning to emerge that success requires strong support from sponsors prepared to invest millions beyond any level of football income. Hangzhou do not currently have such sponsorship although there are persistent rumours that the current owners, Greentown Holdings, may sell the club to a richer organisation who might be able to buy them a move up to the top level which would ensure regular Champions League football. Failing that kind of new investment, they will have to continue to rely on their ability to develop Chinese talent. GGW will follow their progress for the remainder of the season and updates readers about the quest for richer sponsors.

Du Wei’s continued good form in the Chinese League has been accompanied by his consolidation in the Chinese national team under recently appointed coach Jose Camacho, the Real Madrid legend with great managerial experience at club and national level. Camacho has continued the previous reliance on the defensive and leadership qualities of Du Wei in his struggle to take China through the World Cup qualifying stages will Brazil 2014 as the ultimate goal.

Part Two will reveal which other one time Celtic player is a vital part of that World Cup effort.