The first season is over, and the off-season has begun. Read on for cup upsets and transfer market nonsense as we prepare for our second season in the Chinese Super League.
The big news from the post-season is that Liansheng, a small team from China’s third division, defeated mighty Guangzhou 3-1 over two legs to lift the Chinese FA Cup. In a one-off game this would have been incredible, but in a two-legged tie it’s downright miraculous. The so-called magic of the cup is strong in China, apparently.
Failure to retain the league or win either the domestic or continental trophies has seen Luis Felipe Scolari lose his job at Guangzhou. They will now be managed by Mano Menezes in the coming season.
South Korean side Jeonbuk won the AFC Champions League. I can imagine the South Korean league providing the stiffest competition for us if and when we eventually make it to this level. But before all that, we needed to come out of pre-season with a competitive squad that could finish mid-table in the CSL.
It should go without saying that pre-season at a smaller club is a lot busier than it is at a bigger one. Limited finances necessitate shorter contracts for players and staff, which increases the likelihood of a high number of departures and arrivals. At Yanbian, just about every player and member of staff on the books were coming to the end of their contracts.
This was an opportunity to move on the players I thought weren’t good enough and begin building the squad in my image. When I started out I didn’t have much money to spend, but the board have since given me £2.1 million to spend on players and £56k p/w to spend on wages so I could actually buy players from other teams instead of shopping exclusively in the free and loan markets.
I was looking for the following:
· A centre forward to replace Ha Tae-Goon, who’s determination to play at a higher level made it impossible for him to agree a new contract and ensure we got a fee.
· A god-damn left back, which has proved elusive so far.
· Pretty much a whole new central defence, preferably with players who can actually get off the ground and win headers.
· A winger or two. Or three. Or even four. When you play 4-3-3, you can never have enough good wide players.
· A defensive midfielder.
· And anyone good, really.
Over the course of a rather lengthy pre-season, I managed to find the players I needed. Just about, anyway.
Tae-Goon’s replacement was easy enough, as Kim Seung-Dae, who played on the left for me in my first season, would move into the centre forward’s position. He’s not as good a finisher as Tae-Goon but offers a bit more pace and technical ability. Most importantly, he didn’t cost me a thing. Seung-Dae’s backup would be this young Australian regen:
I invited Gligorov in for a trial at the end of last season and got glowing reports, so I signed him permanently on a one-year deal.
Most of my other signings were domestic as we looked to take unwanted players from the bigger clubs. Liu Haidong, the young centre back we had on loan from Guangzhou, signed for us permanently when his contract with the former Champions expired. As someone who should be a future international for China, I considered this a coup. Also arriving from Guangzhou was 21-year old winger/striker Wang Junhui, who signed for £250k and has a five-star potential rating.
In midfield, Li Chunyu arrived for a similar fee from Yongchang, while Helio, a naturalised Hong Kong international, signed from Kitchee for £3k. Helio was a very useful signing, not least because he’s better than what we have, but also because Hong Kong internationals do not count as a foreign player.
We then had some transfer drama. Star midfielder Yoon Bit-Garam decided that he wanted to play for a bigger club despite signing a new contract just a few months ago. Replacing a high quality foreign player obviously wasn’t the easiest thing to do, so I was very reluctant for him to leave. But as tends to happen, no amount of interaction could convince him otherwise.
In fairness, his point about wanting to play with a better quality of player than we’re simply incapable of signing was an accurate one.
Bit-Garam’s value at the time was £6.5 million, and I hoped I’d be able to get a huge fee from one of the many rich clubs in Asia. Sadly, Bit-Garam wasn’t as coveted as he thought he was, as clubs turned down the opportunity to sign him for £5 million, then £3 million, then £1.5 million, then £1 million… in the end, it took reducing the asking price to a pitiful £400k to convince South Korean side Jeju to bid for him. With no other choice, he was sold for that amount.
The funny thing about it all? Yanbian signed Bit-Garam from Jeju for £1.4 million the year before. So not only did we lose a great player, we made Jeju a tidy profit.
On the bright side, Bit-Garam’s departure allowed me to sign this guy:
He’s not the fittest players I’ll ever sign but his raw ability is streets ahead of anyone in the squad, and he can play in any of the three midfield roles I usually use.
Roorda was the only foreign player to be signed by a Chinese club, as everyone else stuck to the domestic market:
Generally, what I saw was that very average Chinese players were moving for large fees instead of that money going towards foreign stars. This makes the transfer market very tricky, as there will be a dichotomy between what I believe is value for money and what is a standard transfer fee in the Chinese market.
Away from transfers, I managed to convince the board to increase the number of coaches and scouts I’m allowed to sign – by one! Still, an extra body in either department was a big help towards managing the workload. Unfortunately, despite the club having decent finances, I couldn’t convince the board to improve the woeful state of our training and youth facilities.
We spent pre-season in South Korea again, and were now ready for the second season to begin. Whereas I thought the first season would be a struggle, I had no idea what to expect for this one. All I knew was that I felt we had a good enough squad to finish mid-table.