Once the hullabaloo has calmed down, and the dust has settled, a certain Rafa Benitez knows he has a job of work on his hands. Or if he didn’t, he soon will. Because the headline-grabbing move from Newcastle United coach to Dalian Yifang chief, that comes with its astronomical pay-packet circa £12million a year, isn’t going to be an easy ride. Not even for hugely experienced and talented Benitez, one-time king of both Liverpool and Real Madrid.
For Dalian Yifang are not a club in form. So much so, in fact, that they have managed just four wins in 15 Chinese Super League (CSL) games and, as a result, they sit in a lowly-ish 10th position in the league table standings. But they did win on their last outing when they chalked up a 3-1 victory at Beijing Renhe (and on the scoresheet was wantaway Yannick Carrasco, the Belgium ace who looks set for a move to Premier League giants Arsenal, who scored from the penalty spot).
So, Bentiez — the former Chelsea manager — has been asked to change the fortunes of Dalian Yifang in the CSL, although he won’t be able to change much this term other than start to trnasform things slowly but surely with a view to bid for the title next season. The race for the crown continues apace meanwhile, with Beijing Guoun leading the pile two points ahead of Guangzhou Evergrande Shanghai East Asia in third spot.
The Spanish coach, who is now aged 59, says the time was right to switch to the CSL after turning down various offers in the past — one of which was from the club where he has just landed to replace Choi Kang-hee, who resigned on Monday for personal reasons. He added:
“After a long path, we start a new challenge. I’m happy to begin this new project with Dalian Yifang. My ambition hasn’t changed. I want to compete. I want to win. I received offers in the past from teams in China but it was not the right time
“Dalian was three years ago I said no, but you have to think about you and your staff and the opportunities. I have to think about my people, my staff, as well as my own future.”
But it’s a different picture now with Benitez acknowledging the senior figures at the club who have helped him to take on this new challenge. He said:
“What I have found at Dalian is an incredible project that has arrived at the perfect time and this has been a major factor in my decision. We’ve accepted the challenge of leading a superb project with the full backing and confidence of the club’s leadership team.”