As Chinese Super League grows in stature, so does the pressure on managers
Musical chairs for head coaches is the same in the mainland as in other countries that have a strong domestic competition
The surge of investment in the Chinese Super League not only brings famous foreign players to the country, it increases pressure on the big-name coaches hired to win titles.
Clubs in China spent more than US$300 million on playing talent from overseas ahead of the 2016 season, more than any other country in the world. The average attendance at games so far this year is more than 26,000, up from 22,000 in 2015. With a new lucrative television deal signed in February worth a reported US$1.3 billion over the next five years, the Chinese Super League increasingly has all the trappings of a big league.
And just like it is for coaches in England or Spain when they’re perceived as not delivering, the decisions to fire managers can be ruthless and swift. With the season not yet one-third completed in China, four top-tier teams have already sent their foreign coaches packing.
Mano Menezes, the coach of the Brazil national team from 2010 to 2012, was released by Shandong Luneng on Tuesday, shortly after a 2-0 loss at home to Beijing sent the three-time champions into the relegation zone. Despite Shandong’s victory over Australia’s Sydney FC last month that booked the team a quarter-final spot in the 2016 AFC Champions League for the first time since 2005, it was not enough for the manager who was appointed in December.
“Mano is an excellent coach and he led us to this stage in Asia but domestically there are many problems,” Shandong General Manager Dong Jan said. “It was not easy for him. There were cultural problems between us and he was feeling lots of pressure.”
Before his firing, Menezes admitted the season was not going according to plan.
“The results have not been there and this means there is pressure for any coach,” he told the local media. “It is the same in many places and it is the same in China.”
Menezes was replaced almost immediately by Felix Magath, who has won Bundesliga titles as a coach with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg.
Shandong hopes that the 62-year-old German coach is a better fit.
“He is an excellent coach and has won titles and we are looking forward to working with him,” Dong said. “For us, it is important that we start to get the right results in the Chinese Super League and we are confident that we have the right coach to help us do so.”
Magath is also ready for the new challenge.
“I am very interested in the great awakening of Chinese football,” he said. “And I am delighted at the prospect of the upcoming task.”
Also this week, Dan Petrescu left Jiangsu Suning. The former Romanian international and Chelsea star had led Jiangsu to ninth place in the 2015 season and also to the China FA Cup. The club were then bought by Suning Holdings, the largest retailer in China.
Major investment followed. Jiangsu spent more than US$100 million in January and February on Brazilian stars Ramires from Chelsea in the English Premier League and Alex Teixeira from Ukraine club Shakhtar Donetsk.
There were hopes of a first domestic title when Jiangsu started well but a dip in form in the Chinese Super League and an early exit from the AFC Champions League had Petrescu under pressure. Former Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has already been linked to the job.
There was an Italian coach in the top tier until May when Beijing Guoan fired Alberto Zaccheroni after only four months. Zaccheroni, who has been in charge of Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus, took the Beijing position in January but a spate of injuries to players and just two wins in the league led to his early exit. In the same month Serbia’s Slavisa Stojanovic left Changchun Yatai.
Big name changes are afoot in China’s second-tier competition, too. Fabio Cannavaro replaced Wanderley Luxemburgo as boss of Tianjin after the former Brazil national team boss coach was released this week with the ambitious, promotion-seeking club stuck in the middle of the standings.
Cannavaro knows what he’s getting into – he was fired by Guangzhou Evergrande in June last year after just seven months in the job. The 2006 World Cup-winning captain is back but in the current Chinese climate, it’s hard to predict how long for.