I played with Erling Haaland’s father at Man City, now I’m a £20m business tycoon and have a TV show
Man City fans will fondly remember Sun Jihai, their former midfielder who went on to a successful career outside the game.
The Chinese midfielder spent six years at City and established cult status among fans.
Even before joining the Manchester club, he already had a brief spell in England when he was loaned out to Premier League side Crystal Palace, becoming the first Chinese footballer to play in England.
In 2002, City paid Dalian Shide £2million and soon wrote themselves into the history books again. He became the first Chinese player to play and score in the Premier League.
Speaking to The Times in 2017, he said: “I changed the image British fans have of Chinese players. I let them see what we have instead of the traditional view. I thank the supporters. The support I received from the fans was one of the biggest affirmations I had during my time in the UK.”
The full-back would become a popular figure with the fanbase and made 151 appearances.
The team he joined in 2002 included Alf-Inge Haaland, father of current superstar Erling, Paulo Wanchope, Shaun Goater and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Jihai also had the misfortune to start the infamous 8-1 loss to Middlesbrough in May 2008.
This was just before Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in September 2008 which changed the fortunes of the club and heralded a period of remarkable success.
Jihai was one of the victims that summer and was released for free. He joined Sheffield United, but only spent one season there before returning to China.
Since retiring in 2016, the former defender has co-founded HaiQui [HQ] Sports, which provides sports media, technology and datatainment.
It also led Jihai to host a talk show in which he promoted his sports social media app MiaoHi – which connects celebrities with fans – and his “match prediction tool” Jihai App.
One of the investors in this application was China Media Capital – which had previously bought a 13% stake in City Football Group.
The app is said to have 400 million users and was even used by China’s soccer team to stream content during the 2018 World Cup.
His personal wealth resulting from his business ventures is said to be around £20 million.
Jihai admitted he hopes to use his platform as a well-known personality in China to do more for football in the country.
“One of my dreams is to create a coach education program for football,” he said. “It’s hard to do this now as I prepare for a different life, but in the future I hope I can do something for China in football in a more direct way.
“I believe that with the investment China is making, becoming a force in football will come faster than expected.”