For Marek Hamsik, the former Napoli skipper who left the club in January to join Chinese Super League outfit Dalian Yifang, the target is a simple one: don’t get relegated.
And with two draws from their opening games of the new campaign, it’s very much a case of “so far, so good” for his new team. Not that the Slovakian attacking midfielder won’t strive with every ounce of his being to improve on that goal. Indeed, the ex-Slovan Bratislava ace says claiming a place in the league standings of eighth or above would be ideal.
Hamsik, who left Napoli as the club’s all-time appearance holder and goalscorer, says there is a different way of playing the game in the Chinese Super League. The 31-year-old explained: “The Chinese League is very different from Serie A. Here the level of football is lower and also the tempo is different. I don’t consider myself a star.
“I received a warm welcome but I want to be treated like everyone else. Our goal is to avoid relegation — finishing top eight, however, would be a great achievement.”
Hamsik is settling in as well as can be expected and yet he isn’t afraid to admit that there are certain elements to his former life that he misses. He added: “I miss the food, my friends and much more. Naples was my home for 12 years. I miss the warmth of the people and the joy of San Paolo.”
He is also adamant that he will make the journey back to Naples one day to bid a proper farewell to his adoring fans. He said: “It wasn’t like I always imagined. I was subbed off against Sampdoria but I didn’t know how things would go. It was fast, immediate. I agreed to the move in a short time and then discussed it with my teammates.
“Then the negotiations went on for a bit longer but I knew that the clubs would have reached an agreement eventually. I’ll return to Naples to properly say goodbye to the fans. Some Chinese clubs showed interest in me in the past too, but I didn’t feel ready to leave. This time it was different.”
Meanwhile, Spain and China have teamed up in a collaborative bid to grow the game in the country. A statement on La Liga’s website has confirmed that not only will La Liga and the Chinese Super League be forming a partnership, but also that the clubs within them will work together, too.
A La Liga spokesman said: “La Liga will support the Chinese Super League in issues related to safety and integrity, brand creation and expansion, training and development of grassroots football and match broadcasting.
“The agreement presented and signed in January is just another step forward in the cooperation that La Liga and the Chinese Super League have been building in recent years. We are convinced that by following this path and being patient the CSL will be among the five or six top leagues in the world within years.”
Li Yuyi, president of the Chinese Super League, said that the game’s development was the common aim. He added: “The Chinese Super League has in La Liga a partner with which to cooperate and keep growing. Football development is a common goal for both competitions and La Liga’s experience and knowledge will be truly valuable in reaching this goal.”