Ouédec: 'China has to be seen to be believed'
Nicolas Ouédec, a Ligue 1 Conforama with FC Nantes in 1995, spent three seasons playing in the top flight in China, where Saturday's season curtain raiser the Trophée des Champions will be contested by PSG and AS Monaco.
Nicolas, what was your first reaction when you were contacted about going to play in China?
"In the beginning, when people spoke to me about China, I was a bit reticent. I really had no idea of how big the sport is there. Everything was extremely professional (at successive clubs Dalian Shide and Shandong Luneng). I was blown away. The facilities were incredible! Just huge, exactly like the country itself. Merchandising was a big part of the picture, with shops all over the city. China has to be seen to be believed."
Did you arrive in China with the status of an established European star?
"Not at all. I really had to prove myself when I arrived. The club's directors knew who I was, but the other players and the fans had no idea. For the first six months, everyone observed me and tested me. If a foreign player doesn't get the job done, they don't hesitate to replace them. It was only through hard work that I developed some standing; it wasn't because of my name. But I managed to become voted the best foreign player in the league in my first season."
How were footballers seen in China when you were there?
"Similar to the way they're seen in Europe; the players are stars. When you walk through the city, you can quickly find yourself in the middle of a crowd of 500 people. Football has developed a much higher profile in China since then, thanks mainly to their first World Cup appearance back in 2002. For example, the French league had very little coverage in France when I arrived in 2002. People knew Zidane and a few other big names for sure, but it has grown incredibly since then. The Chinese are more open to other countries and to the different ways that they do things."
Before Nicolas Ouédec, the first Frenchman to opt for an adventure in China was Christian Perez. The former Parisian joined Shanghai Shenhua in 1996, shortly after professional football kicked off in the country in 1994. Defender Cédric Lacluse spent six months with Cosco Shanghai (July 2002 to January 2003), the club that also signed Samuel Boutal, when Claude Le Roy was coach. Finally, between March and May 2007, ex-Paris Saint-Germain man Laurent Leroy played in Shanghai on a month-to-month contract.