China named Elkeson in their squad Wednesday for their opening World Cup qualifier with the Brazilian poised to become the first without Chinese ancestry to play for the country.
The move has divided Chinese football fans and experts, however, as coach Marcello Lippi attempts to guide the nation to only their second World Cup.
Lippi has long complained about a dearth of attacking options and has moved to plug the gap with the 30-year-old striker, who will use the Chinese name Aikesen.
The move to naturalise the Brazilian comes after China similarly gave a passport to London-born midfielder Nico Yennaris.
The Beijing Guoan player has taken the Chinese name Li Ke and made his debut for Lippi’s side in June this year.
The former Arsenal man, however, is half-Chinese, whereas Guangzhou Evergrande striker Elkeson qualifies for China having played in the country since 2013.
Elkeson has scored more than 100 goals in about 150 games in the Chinese Super League.
Along with Espanyol forward Wu Lei and Yennaris, Elkeson is part of a 35-man squad named by Italian World Cup winner Lippi for China’s game in the Maldives on September 10.
Elkeson appears likely to be the start of a growing trend for perennial under-achievers China, who languish 71st in the FIFA rankings and made the World Cup just once, in 2002.
Fellow Brazilians Ricardo Goulart and Fernando are both reportedly set to be naturalised, along with English defender Tyias Browning, also of Evergrande.
Although many other nations, notably 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar, call up players born in other countries, China had resisted doing so until now.
Some fans and pundits, desperate to see China play at a World Cup again, have backed the naturalisation policy.
Others brand it short-sighted and question why a country with a population of 1.4 billion cannot find homegrown players that are good enough.
Reacting to Elkeson’s inclusion in the China squad, one sports think tank was unimpressed.
“It’s not in line with the original intention of football and the long-term development of the industry in China,” wrote an opinion piece by Vning on social media.
The organisation also questioned how effectively the likes of Elkeson and Yennaris — who is having intensive Chinese lessons — will be able to communicate with their teammates.
“Whether they can be integrated into the team and whether they can fight with honour in face of difficulties are hard to say,” Vning added.