TEAM: Guangzhou Evergrande
FORMER TEAM: Henan Jianye
One of the best-ever shot-stoppers in Chinese Football history, Zeng Cheng was acquired for a free in the Chinese era of spending absurd amounts of money on domestic and foreign players alike. Marcelo Lippi, the man who brought him to Guangzhou announced him as one of Guangzhou’s best buys.
Cheng began his career at Wuhan Guanggu. After a loan spell in Indonesia, he returned and made his debut at the end of the 2005 season. Cheng was understudy to No.1 Xiaoting Feng. He stayed with the Wuhan until the team quit the CSL in protest and were subsequently relegated in 2008.
He moved to Henan Jianye in 2009. He had a superb season in goal as he guided his team to third place in the League and the AFC Champions League. It was a huge success for the player himself as he became first choice after being recruited as an understudy for Zhou Yajun.
Cheng’s form saw him selected in Gao Hongbo’s Chinese squad for a friendly against Iran. He made his debut in the match and kept a clean sheet as his country came out 1-0 winners. He was selected in subsequent squads as an understudy for Yang Zhi.
Cheng continued his good form into future seasons and his performances attracted the attention of then two-time back-to-back champions Guangzhou Evergrande. It was a coup for China’s No. 1 team as they got the country’s No. 1 keeper on a free transfer.
His first season was a resounding success. Cheng was a rock at the back that conceded just 16 goals and kept 23 clean sheets in 27 matches in the league. Cheng was equally good in the Champions League as Guangzhou dominated both the group stage and knockout rounds on their way to become just the second Chinese club ever to win the Champions League. His performances saw him win the Chinese FA’s Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2013. It was an award he went on win in both 2015 and 2016 going forward. He was also included in the CSL team of the year in 2013. He returned to the Team in 2015 after missing out in 2014. He followed up his 2015 selection with another one in 2016.
Cheng, unfortunately, ruptured his posterior cruciate ligament in the World Cup Qualifier against Iran. The injury ruled him out of the rest of the season. Despite suffering the injury, Cheng’s 2016 season was so good that he was named Goalkeeper of the Year and selected to the Team of the Year despite starting just 23 league games. He kept 10 clean sheets.
Cheng has returned from injury in 2017 and was part of the run that fired Guangzhou back to the top of the on-going Super League. The injury has not seemed to slow him down as he has conceded just 14 goals yet.