Changchun Yatai squad starting to shape up ahead of the 2024 season

The 2024 Chinese Super League season is set to begin in less than two months’ time and Changchun Yatai’s recruitment is already reportedly in full swing, with the squad already starting to take shape.

Manager Chen Yang has a lot of work to do to keep his team competitive in the 2024 Chinese Super League campaign, with the team having finished ninth in the league last season after a 13th-place finish the year prior.

One of the biggest reasons for the team’s improved form, however, was the performances of Brazilian striker Leonardo, who was on loan from Shandong Taishan during the first half of the season.

One he left during the summer transfer window, joining Zhejiang FC and ending the season with the Golden Boot, Changchun struggled and could have easily slipped further down the standings had they not had such a strong start to the year.

Chen Yang has alternated between a 5-3-2 and a 4-4-2 system of late, and his recruitment this off-season will focus heavily on players that can fit into either of those, although the latter has been his preference.

With that in mind, changing the team in a significant way is clearly at the top of Chen Yang’s priorities and some of the moves that should do that have already reportedly taken place or could be on the horizon over the next few weeks.

Notable Departures

Before bringing in any new faces, Changchun Yatai’s hierarchy needed to determine which players from the current group would be allowed to leave for pastures new.

Arguably the biggest name to leave Nanling Stadium this off-season is Danish centre back Jores Okore, who did not have his contract extended after it expired on December 31st.

Okore originally joined Changchun Yatai ahead of the 2021 season, which saw the club return to the Chinese Super League after a two-year spell in China League One, and he became the focal point of the team’s defensive line.

Whether Chen Yang deployed three or two centre backs in his match day lineups, Okore was relied upon heavily and featured in 78 league matches for the Northeastern club, using his aerial presence in set pieces at both ends of the pitch, scoring three goals and providing a further two assists.

It will be a tall order finding a replacement that can be as reliable as the 32-year-old former Aston Villa man, who will be missed greatly by the fanbase.

Far less influential and tenured than Okore is another confirmed departure for the team in Bi Jinhao, who has left Nanling Stadium to join last season’s league and cup runner-up Shandong Taishan.

Bi Jinhao joined Changchun ahead of the 2023 season and provided depth in defence, although he was also capable of playing at the other end of the pitch where required.

He featured in 16 league matches and made one cup appearance throughout the year, regularly featuring as a substitute.

His time with the team was brief, and now he’ll chase his hope of winning silverware with Shandong, where he may feature in even fewer games.

Veteran centre back Yi Teng is also reported to have left the club and will drop down to China League Two to continue playing as he enters the latter stages of his career.

This follows on from Nenad Lukić’s departure from the club right at the start of the transfer window, after the Serbian forward had a difficult time in China and failed to cement his place in the team.

The rest of the Changchun Yatai squad is largely unchanged at present, with import players Serginho and Peter Zulj remaining, although there are questions over the future of the likes of Sun Jie, who spent last season out on loan.

Confirmed/Reported/Rumoured Arrivals

After the loss of Leonardo, landing a cornerstone import striker this off-season was paramount.

Changchun Yatai hope that can be former Slovenian international Robert Berić, who recently left Tianjin Jinmen Tiger after two seasons at the club.

After eight goal involvements in 26 games in 2022, including scoring four of his own, Berić found the net 10 times himself in 2023 (adding one assist) and should help lead the line alongside China international Tan Long, who also scored 10 goals last term.

Berić was recently spotted training with the club and appears to have agreed a two-year contract, extending his stay in China after reports of European interest had emerged before his Tianjin departure.

This season, Chinese Super League clubs can play five import players in the starting XI, which means Yatai have an opportunity to strengthen throughout their squad.

Serginho and Zulj are stalwarts in midfield, but reports have them bringing in Serbian centre back Lazar Rosić and Brazilian attacker Guilherme alongside Berić. Reports suggest that both Rosić and Guilherme, the latter of whom has experience playing in China after a two-year stint with the now-defunct Guangzhou City, are already in China and prepared to join the team this season.

Guilherme’s experience in China will be valuable for Chen Yang, with the 32-year-old Brazilian having 19 goal contributions, including 11 of his own, in 32 appearances across his two seasons in the south.

Rosić, meanwhile, is a former Serbian Under-20s international who has predominantly played his football in his home nation and in Portugal, with spells at Braga and FK Vojvodina Novi Sad as well as a brief stop in the UAE.

He brings good height, standing at 1.9 metres tall, and should replace the outgoing Okore suitably well, dispelling fans’ concerns that players from Eastern Europe have struggled to fit in with the team over the past few seasons, with Lukić, Fatos Bećiraj and Jan Rezek all former players who have not lived up to expectations at the time of their arrivals.

Domestic signings have been largely subdued this off-season, with Nanjing City centre back Sun Guoliang the only player to have officially signed with the team. At 32, he has never played in the top tier of Chinese football and will likely play backup to the likes of Rosić and Yuan Mincheng this season.

Outside of Sun Guoliang, Changchun have reportedly brought in two former Dalian Professional teammates after the club’s relegation and subsequent dissolution this off-season meant that they were left seeking new homes.

Wang Yaopeng, a 29-year-old centre back, and Wang Yu, a 21-year-old defensive midfielder, have reportedly linked up with Chen Yang’s side and will be looking to earn themselves a new, permanent home.

Wang Yu has earned himself 25 professional appearances, including 21 in the Chinese Super League, despite his young age and will certainly be a player the team will look to help develop further, while Wang Yaopeng arrives with 115 professional games under his belt, including 95 in the top Chinese league.

Alongside them, it was previously reported that attacking midfielder Duan Liuyu had joined Changchun Yatai from Shandong Taishan. After spending last season on loan to Wuhan Three Towns, Duan Liuyu is looking for a new home and would be an interesting proposition for Changchun.

He has experience, with 97 professional appearances, with 20 goal contributions (10 goals, 10 assists) across five seasons. He could fit in nicely in Chen Yang’s side and provide the team with a talented Chinese midfielder to bridge the gap.

However, since initially being reported, word has been quiet on Duan Liuyu’s move and it’s possible that it may no longer be in the works, which would be a disappointing turn of events for the club.