Former A-League star McBreen's cultural immersion in the CSL

Former A-League star Daniel McBreen has opened up about his time playing in China and how he learnt the hard way that Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday on the Chinese calendar.

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The now-retired striker spent two stints playing in the Chinese Super League for Shanghai Dongya, now known as Shanghai Port and the club Aaron Mooy currently calls home, in 2013 and 2014.

McBreen, who had a prolific career of more than 15 years spanning 13 clubs and six countries, says his time in China was one of the most unique experiences of his time as a professional footballer.

“I had played in Europe for teams in Scotland, Romania and England which are all relatively similar culture wise to Australia so moving to play in China was a very different experience altogether,” McBreen said.

“We had a very eccentric owner and coach who worked the team very hard and didn’t like days off.

“The coach would run exactly the same training session every week down to the minute so we knew exactly what we had in store each day.

"Coming from Australia where rest and variation was a big philosophy among coaches it was a really big shake-up to what I had known."

Off the pitch, it was also a major cultural immersion for McBreen but he said that it was made easier by the family atmosphere at the club and his teammates.

“I was in Shanghai and with it being a massive city there was a large ex-pat community which made it much easier for me to adapt and settle into life in China,” he said.

“I enjoyed the Chinese culture and the food but also the fact there were plenty of places where we could go to an Italian restaurant or a café like we would back home in Australia.

“I still keep in contact with a number of my Chinese teammates as they were great guys, even when there was a bit of a language barrier they were always very friendly and so accommodating people.”

One big part of Chinese culture is the celebration of the Lunar New Year.

McBreen admits he didn’t understand the significance of the holiday before going to play in China and tells how that lack of knowledge caught him out.

“I was really shocked at how big a deal Lunar New Year was for Chinese people. I went over there with not much of an idea about the celebration and learned very quickly how important a holiday it is,” he said.

“Everyone at the club would just be like see you in five days and then would disappear as they travelled around the country to see their families.

“I was rooming with fellow Australian player Bernie Ibini and we thought we would be able to spend the time off exploring the city.

“However, it was like a complete exodus in Shanghai. Nothing was open, not even the banks, meaning we couldn’t get any money out or go anywhere until the end of the holiday.”

Despite the shock, McBreen said it was a special time to be in China and had given him a greater appreciation for Lunar New Year.

The A-League Championship Winner says he holds his time playing in China in high regard and would encourage any other Australian player to make the move if given the chance.

“For Aussie players, the opportunity to play in the Chinese Super League is one that shouldn’t be ignored,” McBreen said.

“The standard of football in China is decent and it is an opportunity to set yourself up for life financially with the money being offered by the clubs.

“Aaron Mooy is demonstrating now that China is a place where Australian players have the chance to perform at a very high standard against some great players."

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Published 27 January 2022 at 11:25am
Source: SBS