Fabio Cannavaro guided Guangzhou Evergrande to their eighth Chinese Super League championship at the weekend, a triumphant end to a turbulent campaign for the 2006 Italian World Cup-winning captain.
AFP Sport picks out five talking points from the 2019 Chinese football season.
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– Cannavaro enjoys last laugh –
The 46-year-old former Real Madrid and Juventus defender had an eventful year. The Evergrande coach was also put in charge of the national side in March, but quit after two defeats. He was temporarily moved aside at Evergrande in late October following a poor run of form, even though they were still top of the league. The Italian great returned to his post at the start of November and Evergrande duly won their next three matches to seal the title on Sunday, and his first major honour as a coach.
– Managerial merry-go-round –
It would not be a shock if Cannavaro is sacked or quits because the domestic championship is a minimum requirement at Evergrande, who have won the Chinese Super League in eight of the past nine years but only reached the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League and quarter-finals of the FA Cup in 2019. Beijing Guoan finished second under French coach Bruno Genesio, who replaced the sacked Roger Schmidt, but his contract is only until the end of the season. Guoan were third and in the title race when they dumped the German Schmidt in July. Five of the 16 CSL clubs changed coaches in one ruthless month. Vitor Pereira, coach of deposed champions Shanghai SIPG, could also move on.
– Benitez under scrutiny –
Dalian Yifang were 10th in the CSL when Champions League winner Rafael Benitez took over in July. They finished the season just one place higher, winning two of their last 10 matches, and last week were thrashed 5-1 by relegation-threatened Tianjin Tianhai. The Spaniard is attempting to revamp the team and introduce younger players, but he will be expected to have ambitious Dalian competing for at least the top six next season. Belgian international winger Yannick Carrasco, who has been linked with AC Milan and Arsenal, looks likely to leave.
– State of flux –
More regulations may be introduced next season as Chinese football’s decision-makers attempt to boost the fortunes of the national side. There are reports that a new salary cap could be introduced. One major change this season was the naturalisation of foreign footballers. London-born Nico Yennaris, whose mother is Chinese, made his debut for China, as did the Brazil-born striker Elkeson. At least a dozen more players are thought to be in the process of getting passports to play for the world’s most populous country.
– National team in crisis again –
President Xi Jinping wants China to become a footballing superpower, but that appears more remote than ever. Marcello Lippi quit as national coach in January, Cannavaro oversaw two defeats, then Lippi returned. But the 71-year-old Italian resigned for a second time last month following a World Cup 2022 qualifying defeat to Syria. China have tumbled six places to 75th in the FIFA world rankings, sandwiched between Guinea and Bolivia. Former Everton midfielder Li Tie is taking temporary charge.