Guangzhou Evergrande are popularly known as the Manchester United of Asia but their rise been similar to that of Manchester City. There is no Asian club that can match Guangzhou in terms of stature and profile. But their rise is owed to the large injections of money from real estate company Evergrande.
The inflow of money has seen them follow up their 2010 promotion from the second division with 6 consecutive Championships. Throw in a pair of AFC Champions League in their trophy cabinet and we can safely say that Guangzhou have formed a footballing dynasty similar to those of Real Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich in Germany.
The club’s success has been down to their shrewd transfers. When Evergrande bought the club back in 2010 they promised to pump money into the club. Their first act was to buy National team striker Gao Lin from Shanghai Shenhua. The club then roped in his manager and roped in Lee Jang-Soo following it up with the stunning signings of National Captain Zheng Zhi and Sun Xiang, who incidentally is the first Chinese player to play in the UCL. Then came the BIG buy – Muriqui for a domestic record fee ¥23m. Promotion was all but confirmed with the squad that Guangzhou had. The wrapped up the league and returned to the Super League for the 2011 season.
Despite the promotion, Guangzhou were not sitting idle and snapped up Brazilian Cleo and Argentinian Dario Conca. They easily clinched the title with 4 games to spare. That is no easy feat for a promoted side. Guangzhou’s professional approach led to think further – think Continental. 2012 saw them make a deep run into the Quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League becoming the first Chinese club to do so since 2006.
Guangzhou replaced Jang-Soo with World Cup winner Marcelo Lippi. The 2012 Season also saw Guangzhou win the Super League for the second consecutive time and followed it up with the FA Cup and the FA Super Cup. In the 2013 season, Guangzhou continued to improve their squad and roped in Chinese shot stopper Zheng Cheng and the Brazilian Elkeson. They helped Guangzhou become the first club to win the Super League thrice in a row. But that was expected with the import-heavy squad that they had. Guangzhou won the 2013 AFC Champions League beating Seoul FC on away goals. The club had planned a concert in their stadium following the match. Such is their confidence, it is borderline arrogance. The type you expect from a ‘superclub’. They also reached the semifinals of the Club World Cup losing out to Bayern. Guangzhou were in a League of their own.
Lippi stayed for another season and secured another League title and before quitting. He was replaced by arguably a bigger name – Luiz Felipe Scolari. His first season saw him win the customary CSL title and secure the AFC Champions League for the second time in three years. This season’s success was considered better than the one two years ago. Scolari himself said that the second title was won by the Chinese players with the ‘imports’ playing second fiddle unlike the first time. The 2016 season saw them secure their SIXTH consecutive championship and their 7th straight league title.
The Guangzhou model of success has been followed by other clubs but not with much success. Remember the ill-fated Drogba-Anelka axis of Shanghai Shenhua. The hiring of high-profile managers such as Sven-Goran Eriksson and Manuel Pellegrini are other examples. Players like Oscar, Hulk, Tevez, Pelle and Pato are flooding into China and making the league more competitive and with clubs trying to break Guangzhou’s stranglehold on the CSL, the 2017 season may be the year we have a new Champion.