Ndlovu can blaze new trail for South African players in China

Dino Ndlovu in action for Qarabag EPA/Aziz Karimov

Dino Ndlovu's move to Chinese side Hangzhou Greentown last week could open the pathway for more South African players to feature in the lucrative Asian league.

Ndlovu was unveiled by his new club after an excellent 18 months at Azerbaijan club Qarabag, who he helped fire into the UEFA Champions League group stages, and netting 24 goals in 49 starts in all competitions.

He is not the first South African to feature in China -- the likes of Mark Williams and Bennett Mnguni have played their before -- but it is rare enough so as to be noteworthy.

Ndlovu's move to the Chinese second-tier was motivated, of course, by money, and there will be those that call him out on that.

But his chances of moving to one of Europe's elite leagues is very slim, even if at the age of 27 he should be reaching his peak.

He has scored enough goals in Europe in the last three seasons -- as well as while in Israel earlier in his career -- to have been picked up by a club from the top leagues, so if it hasn't happened by now he must have made peace with the fact that it likely never will.

By moving to China he can secure his financial future, and to be honest there was not much currency in remaining in Azerbaijan, where the trophies come easily, but the level is generally very poor.

He also has an important role to play in opening doors for others and, if previous trends are followed, China could become a new favourite destination for South African players.

It was Turkey for a time, then Russia, followed by Israel ... all nations where a small trickle of South Africans became a flood, boosted as well by the agents who push their players to these countries.

We have seen Egypt suddenly become a destination for players from the South African league in recent months - first Phakamani Mahlambi moving to Al Ahly, and then Gift Links and Namibian striker Benson Shilongo to Al Assiouty. And more could be to follow after years of no business being done between the football nations.

And so Ndlovu carries that same responsibility -- if he proves a success in Hangzhou then clubs and scouts from China will look to South Africa to see what other gems they can find.

There has already been talk, albeit in the tavern, that Qarabag may look to replace Ndlovu with Mamelodi Sundowns' Khama Billiat, so he has made them cast their eyes to the Premier Soccer League.

There is no doubt that Chinese football does not have the history, prestige and razzmatazz of European football, but it does have the investment and for players from our continent, that is important too.