Almost a decade after he joined the Blues, China’s biggest football star of the past 20 years Sun Jihai (or Jihai Sun as he preferred to be known in England) will return to the Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
Jihai, accompanied by his wife, children and a Chinese television crew, will be guest of honour at the home game against Liverpool.
Despite a cruciate ligament injury that kept him sidelined for the best part of a whole season Jihai managed six years with the Blues before taking the experience he gained back home. (watch him score against Sunderland in our rewind feature)
He made 130 appearances for City, earning a warm reputation from the fans as a man who was willing to play anywhere in the side and was always wholehearted and committed.
He featured under three managers Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce and Sven-Goran Eriksson and it was Pearce who summed up Jihai’s qualities
"Jihai may question what you want from him within a certain role but he will never ask why he is being shifted or complain because he wants to do anything he can for the team. He is worth his weight in gold in respect of his flexibility," praised the former City chief.
Jihai, who also played for Crystal Palace and Sheffield United in two spells in England, was the recipient of one of the last decade’s funniest City terrace chants ‘Singing aye-yi-yippee Sun Jihai’ which, whilst possible not passing a political correctness or diversity test, nevertheless brought smiles to those who heard it including the player himself.
Capped 78 times for his country for whom he made his debut at the age of 19, Sun became the first Chinese player to score in the Premier League (October 2002 versus Birmingham) and picked up player of the month honours for City.
He is no stranger to silverware having been part of four top division title winning sides in China and been named their player of the year in 1998. At the age of 34 he is still playing for Shaanxi Chanba but is excited about coming back to Manchester where he will find familiar faces in Joe Hart and Micah Richards – as well as kit supremo Les Chapman and some of the back room staff.
“I treasure my time at City as a wonderful part of my life,” he said ahead of his return. “My children loved England too and it is exciting for me to return and see old friends at a time when the team is doing so well.”