Sun Jihai has long been regarded as one of China's best defenders. He studied in Brazil as a teenager in early 1990s and started his professional career in multi-Chinese champions Dalian Shide.
In 1998, he joined former England head coach Teery Venables’ Crystal Palace alongside national teammate Fan Zhiyi, but his departure took a toll on the Shide side and he was invited by then Dalian mayor Bo Xilai back to the home club after playing in London for only a season.
Further established in China’s first division league, Sun joined another former England coach Kevin Keegan’s Manchester City in 2001 and became the first Chinese player in the English premier league.
Jihai always said that his father is the first person that he should thank in his professional career. It was his father who gave him a soccer ball when he was only seven.
Jihai was also fell out of former China coach Bora Milutinovic’ favor when the Serbian first took over as the national boss. But he gradually won Milutinovic’s trust and played a very important role in China’s successful campaign in qualifying for the 2002 World Cup finals, the first time in China’s history.