EXCLUSIVE: Santalab back for new season with Chengdu Blades
Former Sydney FC striker Brendon Santalab is back in China and preparing for his second season with Chengdu Blades. However, this season will be slightly different after the Blades were relegated to the second division of the Chinese Super League this week for being involved in a match-fixing controversy a few years ago (something Santalab had no involvement in).
The 27-year old has been back in training for a few weeks now and is looking forward to a new season, despite the fact he will be dropping a division.
"I have been back in China for over a month now, everybody has made me feel very welcome like when I first arrived and I'm very happy to be back," he told tribalfootball.com.
"The pre-season training is going well and the season begins in just over a month; I'm looking forward to it!
"Things for me personally are going very well. I'm fit and injury-free.
"This season is a massive challenge for myself, the team and the club due to being relegated because of the match-fixing scandal which happened in 2006.
"As a player, it's business as usual for me and I'm simply focused on helping the club push for promotion back into the super league."
Santalab was a revelation for the Blades last season, scoring nine goals in 13 appearances as the southwest team finished 7th on the Chinese Super League table with the Australian being involved in six wins after he arrived and despite a massive cultural difference, he says he is adapting to the lifestyle and becoming more comfortable with day-to-day Chinese life.
"I'm enjoying my time here in Chengdu," he added. "China is completely different to Australia and you have to adapt according to the lifestyle and the culture. My experiences and challenges that I faced whilst in Belgium and Hungary have made life easier for me here in China and I think being mentally strong through tough times has made this challenge of playing here a lot easier for me."
As for the match-fixing scandal, Santalab admitted things were not clear there for a while, but with the help of his agent, he stayed strong and remained with the club and is now hoping he can enjoy some 'clean' Chinese football.
"Although we have been relegated, my agent Lou Sticca has been very supportive and his guidance has been influential to me through this time of uncertainty," Santalab added further.
"During my holiday in Australia, Lou was in discussions with Chengdu in regards to my future. In the end I was very happy to sign a new 2-year deal with Chengdu Blades and I can now solely concentrate on my football.
"China is going through a stage of 'cleaning up the game' and this is great for football in China and I feel it can only move forward from here. The situation is obviously not a good one but it's happened in Italy and in many other countries.
"The positive thing is that they are doing something about it to make football bigger and stronger in China."
And Santalab was all for more Australians making the move to China or Asia in general, just to experience a completely different way of life and improve mentally and physically as a footballer.
"In regards to Australian players moving to China, 'why not?'," he continued.
"If you're a professional footballer and you get the opportunity to play overseas, whether it be China, anywhere in Asia or Europe, it's not only a great experience but it can help you grow as a footballer. It's all experience and you can't buy that!"