Ex-Arsenal youth star, Nico Yennaris changes name to Li Ke as he becomes first naturalised footballer to play for China

Former Arsenal midfielder, Nico Yennaris has changed his name to Li Ke after becoming the first-ever naturalised footballer to play for China.

The 27-year-old who was born in the UK to a Chinese mother gave up his British passport as the world’s most populated country prohibits dual nationality.

Since becoming the first-ever naturalised footballer to play for China, Yennaris has made five caps for his adopted nation. He has also changed his name to Li Ke to reflects that he’s now Chinese.

Speaking with SunSport, Li, who plays for Beijing Guoan, said: “To be honest, I’m not sure what the name means. I was given it when I moved here.

“I didn’t actually know my name had officially changed until I arrived. It was a bit of a surprise but I’m happy and proud to have a Chinese name.

“Everyone says it’s a decent name. Li is quite a common name in China. I’m used to people calling me it now.

“Some people still call me Nico. Some call me Li Ke but it’s more fans who will call me by my Chinese name.”

The former England youth star said it wasn’t a hard decision to waive his British citizenship.

He explained: “I was probably the most relaxed and most calm about it out of everyone. I think people around me were nervous because it hadn’t been done before.

“But my thinking was football-based: I was progressing and if that’s what it takes to play international football, let’s go with it.

“I just made my decision there and then. I didn’t really dwell on it. I wanted to play for China.”

He made his China debut in a 2-0 friendly win over the Philippines on June 7 last year.

Li, who is still embracing the Chinese culture is regularly spotted and asked for pictures by people who he says are always “polite and friendly”.

The footballer who spends much of his spare time exploring Beijing on his scooter, said: “It’s so big, you can always find somewhere new. You get a mix of the old and the new.

“When you go through certain areas, you see the history of the country with the architecture and the detail in some of the framework.

“Then you can drive half an hour in another direction and it’s like you’re living in 2024 with how modern it is.

“The way of living here is very relaxed, despite there being so many people. In London, everyone is head down, 100 miles an hour. It feels really busy but here it’s more relaxed.

“Buildings go up rapidly out here. You can definitely see and sense the feeling of growth within the country.”

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