Sun Jihai, who paved the way for Chinese soccer players to compete in world top-tier leagues, announced he was hanging up his boots on Dec 10. “It’s really hard to say goodbye. Soccer still brings me happiness. Thank you for accompanying and supporting me through the years,” he wrote on Sina Weibo. Sun was one of the first Chinese soccer players to play in the English Premier League and the very first to achieve a goal. “He has been hugely important to Chinese soccer. Sun showed others that they had the ability to play at high levels in Europe and achieve a regular place in the side through hard work,” journalist Zhang Liang told ESPN.