Big Phil feeling heat in China
Big-spending Guangzhou fail in the Champions League
Since Guangzhou Evergrande started the new wave of spending in Chinese football in 2010, the club has enjoyed constant success - until now.
The title-holders were last week dumped out of the Asian Champions League with a game still remaining in the group stage.
This is despite Guangzhou spending more than $200 million on players and coaches in the past five years, including almost $50m Jackson Martinez from Atletico Madrid.
The club has not only won the past five Chinese Super League titles under World Cup-winning managers Marcello Lippi and Luiz Felipe Scolari, but they have also won two of the past three continental crowns.
Two points from the first four group games this season meant that the 2-0 midweek win at South Korea’s Pohang Steelers could not prevent the early exit. For the first time since arriving in China in June 2015, Scolari finds himself under pressure from the media.
“It has been a difficult week for us,” said Scolari. “We obviously had ambitions in Asia but now we have to focus on winning the Chinese Super League. The standard is getting higher and we face a challenge every week.”
Guangzhou are going well in the domestic league and captain and twotime Asian Player of the Year Zheng Zhi wants to ensure that the club qualifies for next year’s Champions League.
“Unfortunately, we failed to get to the second round for many reasons,” said Zheng. “We have to face reality and start thinking about the league and FA Cup. We want to be champions and then get into Asia once again.”
Guangzhou has long identified its stature with Asian success. In their four previous appearances, the club reached the semi-finals and quarterfinals as well as their two wins.
Making matters worse for Guangzhou is that domestic rivals Shanghai SIPG have progressed to the second round, helped by two of Guangzhou’s former stars.
Striker Elkeson has excelled for Shanghai while Martinez has yet to score in Asia - a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Guangzhou fans.
“He [Elkeson] is a top-class striker and scores consistently,” said Shanghai manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who was delighted at securing a place in the last 16.
“Last year Shanghai were dreaming about winning the AFC Champions League title and up till now we’ve been doing pretty good. Everyone at the club and all the fans are all very happy.”
Perhaps almost as pleasing for Eriksson is that he has often ended up as second best in past meetings with Scolari. The Brazilian knocked Eriksson’s England out of the 2002 and 2006 World Cup and the 2004 European Championships, all at the quarter-final stage.
Scolari also triumphed in the 2015 Chinese Super League, finishing first above Eriksson’s Shanghai in second.
But now the experienced Swede may be having the last laugh, much to the frustration of everyone at Guangzhou.
A BAD WEEK: For Luiz Felipe Scolari and his Guangzhou team