As the world looks on as stars such as Oscar and Carlos Tevez head east to join the football revolution in China, the one player who sparked the revolution over five years ago has departed the Middle Kingdom amid much less fanfare than when he arrived, and leaves behind a remarkable legacy at two clubs.
Dario Conca became a household name seemingly overnight when Guangzhou Evergrande made the little-known Argentine the world’s third highest paid player when they signed the Fluminense midfielder for a then record fee of $10m, with Conca himself earning a reported $12m a season.
Conca has returned to Brazil, although interestingly has signed for Flamengo and not his former club Fluminense, which will no doubt cause some friction between the two clubs and their fans. While his move, officially, is just a year-long loan from Shanghai SIPG it is highly likely we have seen the last of Conca in China.
While higher profile players have moved to China, and continue to do so, few have had an impact quite like the diminutive midfielder.
In total Conca spent five seasons in China – three with Guangzhou Evergrande and the last two with Shanghai SIPG – for a total of 71 goals from 157 matches, and that’s not taking into account the number of assists he provided for the likes of Muriqui and Elkeson (at both Guangzhou and Shanghai) along the way.
At his peak he was a joy to watch. He made football look easy as he tore apart defences with that sumptuous left foot of his. He was instrumental in Guangzhou Evergrande’s maiden AFC Champions League title in 2013. He was the lynchpin, the player that made the team tick.
“For me he is the best foreign player ever in China,” Mads Davidsen, an assistant coach with Shanghai SIPG, told The World Game.
“He is a player who can control an entire football game, setting the pace and deciding more or less if you win or lose. A fantastic player, incredible vision and technically world class level.
“He lifted Chinese football and more or less won the first Asian Champions League title for Evergrande, so a massive player and personality for Chinese football.”
It wasn’t just what he offered on the park, either, it was his complete dedication off it that set him apart according to Davidsen.
“Mainly because of his will and dedication to always want to win and make an impact,” he explained when asked what set Conca apart from other big name signings. “He has this mental ability to always deliver and push himself in the games.
“So (he’s) a winner who always took it 100 percent seriously.”
As more and more players head east – Axel Witsel being the latest, snubbing Juventus for a move to Fabio Cannavaro’s Tianjin Quanjian – they would do well to follow the example set by Conca and dedicate themselves entirely to the cause.
Davidsen is confident the players Shanghai SIPG sign, which includes Oscar, who will replace Conca in the SIPG midfield, are fully aware of what is expected of them.
“For us in the clubs I've been involved in, the lesson has always been to also make sure which person and type (of person) you get in, just as (much as) which kind of player he is.
“Talk with the players at length before to make sure they understand their role and the project they are involved in, because it's also about giving something back to the club, the country and Chinese football.”
And give back to Chinese football Conca most certainly has. As the sun sets on his time in China, the question now is which new arrival is ready to take the baton and take the game in China to even greater heights?