Former Manchester City defender Sun Jihai, one of the first Chinese footballers to play in the English Premier League, has announced his retirement from the sport.

"Today I am retiring, bidding farewell to 22 years of campaigning on the football pitch," the 39-year-old wrote in a statement posted on his verified Weibo social media account over the weekend.

A pioneer for his country, Sun's first foray into English football came in 1998, when he signed for Crystal Palace with countryman Fan Zhiyi, together becoming the first Chinese players in the English leagues.

He was recalled the following year by Dalian Shide, but signed with Manchester City in February 2002.

The club were promoted at the end of that season and in October that year he became the first Asian player to score in the Premier League.

After six years with City he joined Sheffield United in 2008, but opted to return to China the following year after missing his family.

He played in the top-tier Chinese Super League for several years before joining second division Beijing Renhe last December.

"It's truly hard to say goodbye, football still brings me happiness," the veteran player wrote in his post. "Thanks to those of you who accompanied and supported me along the way."

A hero to Chinese fans and a great populariser of English football, Sun was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester in 2015, during President Xi Jinping's visit to Britain.