In the afternoon of the 20th of February, Guangzhou City returned to their training ground in Guangzhou Higher Education Centre in Southern Guangzhou with a squad of 35 players including trialees. As Head Coach Li Weifeng tries to avoid a repeat of his experience with Tianjin Tianhai, where he managed to guide the team out the relegation on the pitch, but the club dissolved the following year nevertheless.
No Money and Player Drain
In the run-up to the reassembly, Li Weifeng was forced to organise the training camp beyond the on-the-pitch part himself. The club canteen had been closed for years as most of the staff responsible for logistics, including all the cooks, haven’t been paid for. The club had to negotiate with the University Sports Centre’s canteen to supply the food, which would still eat into Guangzhou City’s very limited budget.
Faced with a team with little financial resources and less hope, quite a few players have waved goodbye to the club. Tang Miao, the club’s long-time captain who had a successful season transitioning from right back to centre back, left the team the day before for Chengdu as Rongcheng is keen to add yet more experience and versatility to the team’s back line. Cheng Yuelei, once the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, and Li Yongjia, the young central midfielder who scored his first first-team goal in the Guangzhou Derby, chose to stay in the province but move to Meizhou, who need to provide competition and plan B for both positions. Meizhou is also where Guangzhou City’s youth academy is located.
The team’s No. 10 Li Tixiang’s transfer to Zhejiang was announced as soon as Zhejiang’s last game of last season, the FA Cup final, was finished. Yi Teng, the 1.9m-tall bedrock of the defense, was due to join Qingdao Hainiu but now has to find somewhere new as his wage demands scared the newly promoted side away. Chen Zhizhao, the sharp winger and Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup winner with Corinthians, decided to hang his boots and move to Portugal. Song Wenjie and Huang Zhengyu are also rumoured to be looking for a way out.
Hope on the Returnees, and Newbies
But at the training camp, there were also some familiar, but somewhat strange faces. Having recovered from long-term injuries, Ning An, Tan Chun-Lok and Zhou Junchen will stack up for the defence. Zhou, 22, will be especially called upon if the club decides to put Han Jiaqi, China Under 23s’ first-choice goalkeeper, onto the market to keep the team going. Several youngsters from Hebei, whose fate has all but sealed, joined for trial. Gao Huaze, who played a substantial part in their valiant effort in their last year’s top-flight struggle is likely to lead the attack in the play-making role.
In the training camp, Li Weifeng, 44, told journalists that Guilherme and Jown Cardona, the club’s foreign players would return ‘soon’ to join the winter training camp. But the most morale-boosting sight on the day was the return of Guangzhou City long-timer and ex-China International poacher Xiao Zhi, 37, who has been playing in the lower leagues in recent years. Though long thought to be on his way to retirement, Xiao’s return would give much experience and offensive height to the team.
Still lots of legal troubles
But that is one silver lining amidst many clouds. Aside from the debts, the club is still facing a number of FIFA wage complaints by former players, including that with Serbian centre-back Duško Tošić, who left in 2020. That ex-chairman of the Club Zhang Li was arrested in the UK on request by US authorities did not help, but only made things little worse.
One thing that is important, though, is the upcoming appointment of Guangzhou Football Association. Unlike Evergrande, which had largely excluded local government from its decision making, R&F, as City was known, was in closer contact with the home authorities. But a match-fixing scandal in a U15 game last August has thrown the local FA into chaos as Xie Zhiguang 谢志光, the Chairman before the scandal broke, was sacked. This paralysed the process of changing the ownership for the club. Ex-Director of Guangzhou Bureau of Sports Liu Jiangnan 刘江南 was rumored to be the frontrunner for the job. But with a new Director appointed at Guangzhou Sports Bureau, chance has shifted to a current Sports Bureau official being appointed to pick up the mess. Until that is announced, much will not be done at Guangzhou City.