- Zhao was China PR’s first-choice goalkeeper at Rio 2016
- She is a rock & roll fan
- Besides being a footballer she plays the drums
Japanese anime has, amazingly, made a big impact on some great footballers. Hidetoshi Nakata decided to pursue a footballing career after watching Captain Tsubasa while the likes of James Rodriguez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi all drew various inspirations from the created heroes during their early days.
It was, however, a different story for former China PR women's national team goalkeeper Zhao Lina, whose musical talent was unlocked by an anime named Nana. It is a story centred around a popular punk rock band.
"I watched Nana in 2005 when I was a teenager playing for a team in Shanghai," the 28-year-old told FIFA.com. "As a rock and roll fan, I fell for the story when I watched it on TV. It was so cool. I became obsessed. Then an idea sprang to my mind: why don't I try out playing the drums?"
If the idea was not considered to be crazy, at the least it seemed impulsive. Zhao started playing football in 1997 and when she decided to start learning to play the drums, she was already a promising goalkeeper for Shanghai's first team. But she was determined to implement her musical plan.
"I couldn't resist the music temptation," she continued. "So during the weekends I went out looking for a music teacher and started learning to play the drums. Besides my daily football training, I would spend much of my spare time learning and practising drum playing."
Her passion for music didn't go unnoticed as the team manager finally allowed her to continue her musical studies at the training base. "As the coach agreed, the team set up a mini studio for me in a storehouse. I set up my instruments there. Every day after training, even though I was tried, I would go there and practise playing the drums.
"I kept doing so for years. During the holidays, I went to my music teacher to learn something new. At the training base, when I listened to some nice music, I would immediately jot it down so I could practise it at night after training."
Her progress in music was remarkable. Years of consistent training saw her become an accomplished drummer. She was later invited to a band with whom she began performing in public.
"Several people left and our band split up. But some of us still meet and play music together today. As for my musical talent, I am just an amateur drummer who can play some simple music," said the modest Zhao.
As it has turned out, her hobby for music has done little to hinder her football development. Conversely, it has provided fresh inspiration for her footballing pursuits.
"I love music, but I love football the most," explained Zhao, whose favourite player is Manchester United keeper David de Gea. "When I decided to learn music, I was all too aware that football was my job so I always gave football the top priority. So playing music didn't prevent me from concentrating on playing football.
"In fact, I have found similarities between playing football and music. Being a goalkeeper requires responsibility because you are guarding the net of the team. It is an important place although you often spend the majority of the match watching the backs of your team-mates.
"It is similar as a drummer. It is the singers who receive the ovation but as a member of the band, a drummer should focus on playing and doing the job well. It also requires responsibility."
Zhao Lina fact file
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Birthday: 18 September 1991
- Height: 188 cm
- Club: Shanghai
- Honours: Chinese Women's Super League champions (2015), Quarter-finalists at Rio 2016, 2018 Asian Games silver-medallist
Indeed, Zhao's performances between the posts were nothing but admirable. She made a name for herself in 2015 with Shanghai, conceding just 11 goals across 14 matches to help her side to that season's Chinese Women's Super League title. Her goalkeeping displays also saw her earn that year's goalkeeper of the year award in China.
At the international level, despite missing out playing at the FIFA Women's World Cup Canada 2015™ due to an injury, she made up for it by representing China at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016. She started in all four games as China progressed to the last eight.
Now the undisputed No1 for Shanghai, Zhao maintains her aspirations for football and music alike.
"I can't walk away from football. I will continue to play to repay those who have helped me throughout these years. I wouldn't have come this far and become what I am today had it not been for football. I want to show that football is something worth pursuing for the young girls today. And I wouldn't quit music, either. Never."
This article is part of our new series entitled 'Women in Football', where we take a look behind the scenes. Next week, we will be focusing on Pachuca forward Paola Lopez.