The 2022 Chinese Super League season was disappointing for Changchun Yatai, who look set to overhaul their squad and enter 2023 with a new look.
After a sensational return to the Chinese top tier in 2021, where the team finished an astonishing fourth place thanks to league-leading goalscorer Júnior Negrão, Erik Lima, Tan Long and Serginho in attack, the team struggled to replicate this and finished in 13th place.
The first step the club has taken to try and improve on last season’s disappointment is to shake up the import players on the books, with Brazilian’s Negrão, Erik and Serginho all leaving the club after the 2022 season.
Negrão’s age and injury history made his decision to leave the club, officially one month before season’s end, unsurprising, while Erik’s development into the focus man for the team has left many fans sad to see him return to Japan.
Serginho was also highly popular among fans and he is still currently without a club, training by himself in his home country for the time being, so many may still have hope of a return should he not find other options.
Meanwhile, the club have already reportedly found a suitable replacement for him in the form of Costa Rican international Elias Aguilar. Aguilar is no stranger to Asian football, spending the past five seasons in the K League with Incheon United and Jeju United, and the 31-year-old reportedly signed early in January.
Central midfielder Peter Žulj, who had strong showings after his mid-season arrival, and centre-back Jores Okore remain with the club and will be the import foundation they build upon, with the search for serious attacking options ongoing.
Packed Goalkeeper Room
The goalkeeper position has been one of rotation for many years since Zong Lei’s last season in 2012, with the likes of Mi Tianhe, Song Zhenyu, Wu Yake and Shi Xiaotian spending the most time as the team’s number one between the posts.
Last season, the club attempted to find an upgrade over Wu Yake, who resumed starting duties after it was clear Shi Xiaotian would leave after the 2021 season, with former Guangzhou FC stopper Liu Weiguo arriving in the off-season.
However, things did not go too well for Liu and Wu found himself the preferred choice once again, while in-season signing Lu Ning made a handful of appearances due to Covid and a winding down season where the club’s safety was assured.
Now, the club have a truly packed goalkeeper room with youngster Ci Henglong also still in the squad as well as the reported and seemingly confirmed signing of former Wuhan Yangtze River goalkeeper Wang Zhifeng.
The 26-year-old has made 39 Chinese Super League appearances for the now-dissolved Wuhan club and he could attempt to compete with Wu Yake for the starting role, with Liu Weiguo and Lu Ning battling for the third-choice spot.
One of the five will surely leave before the season begins, as carrying this many goalkeepers seems illogical when only two or three are realistically needed. Ci Henglong could benefit from a loan spell in China League One, building up his experience at the professional level, while Liu Weiguo’s poor spell last year could be the end of his time in the northeast.
Chen Yang’s Future
A China League One title, a fourth-place finish in the Chinese Super League and a drop to 13th is the story of Chen Yang’s tenure with Changchun Yatai, and his future will continue to be debated until it’s clear whether or not he is capable of making Changchun a competitive top half of the table side again.
However, it seems that he will have some additional duties in the 2023 season, as it has been reported on Chinese social media that he will lead the Chinese coaching staff for the China National Team.
Chen Yang spent time coaching with the national side while Li Xiaopeng was in interim charge last season, and reports suggest Li and Aleksandar Janković could both be involved in leading Team Dragon forward, with Chen leading the Chinese coaches alongside them.
How this would affect Changchun Yatai remains to be seen, but if things go positively, could a full-time transfer into international football be on the cards, especially after his spell as manager of the China Under-22s in 2016 and 2017?
Domestic Change Needed
Changchun Yatai’s import overhaul will do much to change the face of the team, but changes still need to be made with domestic players. Wing back is still an area that requires attention, while central midfield looks to be a strength for the first time in years thanks to Zulj and Aguilar’s expected partnership, alongside Dilümüt, who continues to develop well.
Too many times, Changchun Yatai search for bargains from teams in the second tier or teams just relegated from the Chinese Super League, and it’s time that they look at fringe players of teams competing at the right end of the table.
Bringing in players with good experience in the league as well as those that have potential but haven’t been able to truly establish themselves at clubs such as Shandong Taishan, Beijing Guoan and Shanghai Port, should give them more options to consider.
He Guan could still return, after having such a positive time at the club last season, and it’s these kinds of players that could truly made a change to how Changchun Yatai look and perform in the 2023 season.