By Robson Sharuko
Just three years ago, they were Nyasha Mushekwi’s teammates at a Chinese club, dismissed as footballers who had chosen a path into a retirement league, in exchange of a big pay cheque.
At the weekend, they both found a way to remind the world decent footballers still play in the Chinese leagues, as they won league championships, in two of Europe’s Big Five leagues.
Portuguese veteran, Jose Fonte (37), was actually deemed excess to baggage at Chinese Super League side Dalian and, in July 2018, left the club by mutual consent.
He made just seven appearances in three months at the club after having arrived in a five million pound switch from English Premiership side West Ham United.
Fonte joined French side Lille and, on Sunday, he captained them to their first Ligue 1 title, in 10 years, after their 2-1 victory over Angers, on the final day of the season.
Lille finished the season unbeaten on the road, since November last year, and ended Paris Saint Germain’s three-year dominance of the French Ligue 1 championship.
When he went on his Chinese adventure, Fonte was dismissed as a player, who was no longer good enough, for the challenges of the major leagues of Europe.
But, he proved those critics wrong, and showed there were still some good players plying their trade in China, as he captained Lille to their first league title in a decade.
To edge a team, which featured Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, for the league title, is something which is even more special.
“It’s hard to believe we are champions, it’s difficult to comprehend what we did,” Fonte said during the post-match reactions.
“We did something amazing. The whole team has been amazing, I am very happy for everyone. We are champions.
“It’s for the supporters, football without the supporters is nothing.
“We really want to be with them, we want to celebrate with them.
“It’s crazy, twelve months of sacrifice, of work, we have shown that we are a real team. We have to come back to Lille and celebrate.
“It’s a victory of the collective, of work, of solidarity and of talent, because there is also a lot of talent in this team. I want to congratulate everyone here at the club.
“The staff, the players, the supporters, this victory is for the North of France and for us, people who work and deserve a lot. Christophe Galtier, he has this ability to unite everyone, to be attentive to details, he is an excellent coach.
“We’re happy because it’s a real competition, we played against real teams — PSG and Monaco have had great seasons, we showed that we had a great level.’’
He said he felt Lille winning the championship, when all the money was on PSG to make it four-in-a-row, felt the same as when he was part of the Portuguese side, which won the Euro Championships, in 2016.
Fonte has been drafted into the national team which will try and defend their European title.
“I think for me it’s almost at the same level as the European Championship (with Portugal in 2016),’’ he said. “PSG are a team with a lot of quality, in a competitive league.
“It’s normal that the title of European champion is the best, but this one is very close. A moment like this is rare.
“Lots of people worked to help us, this title is for everyone no matter what little job they do. In Lille, everyone is doing a lot to help us. The supporters are always with us.
“After a tough time like the coronavirus, it’s good to give them that. When you play in a stadium without supporters, it’s not the same thing. We want to come back to the stadium with them. We want to celebrate with them.”
Fonte is not the only former Dalian player, and an ex-teammate of Mushekwi, who was celebrating a league championship, in Europe, on Sunday.
Belgian midfielder, Carrasco, also met with fierce criticism, when he decided to join the Chinese Super League, on a transfer from Atletico Madrid, in February 2018.
There were some critics who claimed it showed he felt his game was going downhill and he could no longer battle against the best players in Europe.
And, when he made his Chinese Super League debut, on March 3, 2018, in a 0-8 thrashing, at the hands of Shanghai SIPG, those critics, who had started writing the epitaph on the tombstone of his career, in the big leagues, had a field day.
Carrasco returned to Atletico on January 31, 2020, on loan, until the end of the season, before rejoining the club, on a four-year deal, eight months later.
On Sunday, he helped Atletico win the Spanish La Liga title, with his club finding a way to subdue the challenge from heavyweights, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
His goal, in the 1-0 win over Barca on November 21, last year, proved very decisive, during this successful campaign. Carrasco scored six goals, and provided 10 assists, showing he still could play, with the big boys of one of the toughest leagues in world football.
He won a lot of plaudits on Sunday when he walked into the stadium car park to hand over his jersey to an Atletico fan, who was injured, in the pandemonium which followed police intervention, to ensure they didn’t break Covid-19 protocols.
Carrasco has been named in the Belgian side for next month’s Euros.
Mushekwi has since retired from international football but the success of the players, whom he even used to overshadow in some of the league matches, during their time in the Chinese Super League, tells its own big story.
That those who simply dismissed an adventure, into the Chinese Super League, as a money-making move for footballers, who would have been past their prime, might have been getting their facts wrong. Mushekwi scored 54 goals, in 90 appearance, for Dalian, between 2016 and 2019, including topping the scoring charts for his club, for two seasons in a row. The Herald