Size no issue for Phoenix's new signing
Wellington Phoenix's new Chinese soccer signing Leilei Gao says brains and technique will be needed to get the better of his more physical A-League competitors this season.
Gao arrived in Wellington on Monday and was straight off to Newtown Park to watch his new teammates being put through a pre-season training session.
The attacking midfielder returns to New Zealand after a brief but notable stint with the ill-fated Knights in 2006/2007.
Through an interpreter, Gao said he was pleased to be back in New Zealand and keen to mould his game to suit the A-League.
He said the style of soccer in the league was significantly different - and a step up - from China, where he played for Super League club Beijing Guoan before a recent stint in Finland's premier league.
Gao, 27, was aware of his comparatively slight frame.
He admitted he could pump iron all day and never obtain the physical presence of many of the players in the A-League, but would work around any issues that may present on the field.
That would involve using his "technique and brain" to their full extent.
He said there were murmurs from coaches and the media in China that he should have been made an international by now, but the fact that had not happened was not of huge concern.
"I'm focusing on how to improve the general standard of football in China. That's more important than being a member of the national team," he said.
Gao also talked up the New Zealand beef and lamb he tried when he lived in Auckland while at the Knights.
He said it was so good it could replace Chinese food and that it made sense to eat it if he was to give himself any chance of bulking up for the season, starting in August.
While difficult to tell whether or not Gao's tongue was in his cheek, he indicated his interest in taking some of his skills back to China further down the track went beyond soccer.
"He said he's interested in other business in New Zealand that could be transferred to China, for example, sheep shearing," his interpreter said.
"Very fast," Gao said as he mimicked a shearer.
Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert, who coached Gao for five matches at the Knights, said he was excited to secure him on a one-year contract.
He said he would have liked to have done so earlier if it had been possible.
"I think his pace is technically very good, he's a great crosser of the ball."
Herbert said he also had a sought-after ability to cross well from left-field and wasn't too concerned about Gao's lack of size, saying it shouldn't pose too many problems.
"... I'm delighted to get him, I think he'll add a new dimension to what we had last year."