Finally, at 9, Mustafa, accompanied by his father, came to start training.
His soccer and Putonghua have improved – and so has his English.
“We Xinjiang children have better pronunciation of English,” he says, with a wry smile at the Global Times English-language reporter.
Mustafa has visited South Korea for tournaments and travelled with his team to other cities in China.
He is a student of class 2, grade 4. His class has 27 students from ages 9, 10 and 11 teams, eight from Xinjiang.
Schooling is free for all Luneng youth team players.
Players as young as Mustafa have about seven classes daily including Putonghua, English and math. After class, they have a one and half-hour training sessions.
Before the new semester, Mustafa wrote in a school essay that he would work hard to become captain of his team and that his future goal was to play for Luneng Taishan in China’s Super League.
“My biggest dream is to play in La Liga of Spain,” hesays. How about Real Madrid? “To play for any team in La Liga would be good enough.”
Mustafa has a role model: Subi, captain of China’s national Under-16 team who won the Golden Boy prize in the 2017 China Footballer of the Year awards.
Subi tells the Global Times that he could not speak a word of Putonghua when he first came to Luneng aged 9, but he gradually grasped it and became a reliable leader of his team.
There are other, more complex issues.
Ihsan, the first-choice goalkeeper of Luneng’s age-10 team, encountered some difficulties in obtaining a passport in time for travel to a Japanese tournament.
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