More fresh faces join Changchun Yatai ahead of the new season

Changchun Yatai

After announcing six new signings earlier this month, Changchun Yatai have continued to be proactive and have brought in a further four players to round out their squad ahead of the 2024 Chinese Super League season.

Changchun Yatai manager Chen Yang has worked hard this off-season to make changes to a squad that finished ninth in the league last year, with hopes that he can continue moving the team in an upward trajectory after they finished 13th in 2022.

Slovenian international striker Robert Beric arrives at Nanling Stadium alongside Brazilian forward Guilherme, who will be familiar to Chinese fans after his two-year stint with Guangzhou R&F/City, and Serbian centre back Lazar Rosic – rounding out the team’s import cohort with team captain Serginho and fellow midfielder Peter Zulj both returning after linking up well together in 2023.

They were joined by Chinese players Sun Guoliang, Wang Yu, and Wang Yaopeng, all of whom play in defensive positions, but it was clear that business was not over for Chen Yang, who has continued to address other areas of need for the team.

Goalkeeper Competition

The goalkeeper position has been a constant question mark for Changchun Yatai for several years. From 2006 to 2012, the team were backstopped by Chinese international Zong Lei, who played a pivotal role in the club’s 2007 Chinese Super League success as well as the title challenge in 2009.

Since then, the club have switched around goalkeepers on a fairly consistent basis, with Mi Tianhe, Song Zhenyu, Wu Yake, and Shi Xiaotian making the most appearances over the past decade.

Wu Yake has been ever-present in the team, but his status as the team’s first-choice between the posts has been a frequent topic of debate, as he has lost his position on more than one occasion.

During the team’s fateful 2018 season, which ultimately resulted in relegation to China League One, Wu Yake found himself sitting on the bench for the majority of the season in favour of Dong Yifan, who had continually pushed for regular appearances.

After the team were relegated, he still did not earn his position back with the signing of Shi Xiaotian from Liaoning FC. It was Shi Xiaotian who played every match for the club during their two-year spell in the second tier and he was the one who helped them with the title and earn promotion back into the Chinese Super League.

With Shi Xiaotian suffering an injury and then opting not to sign a new contract at the club, Wu Yake found himself back between the sticks for the final six matches of the season.

Since then, he has remained as the team’s preferred starter. Well, almost preferred. Chen Yang, who has been in charge since 2020, has added a number of goalkeepers to the squad in search of another starting option.

Former Guangzhou FC keeper Liu Weiguo was brought in, but failed spectacularly. Wang Zhifeng, formerly of Wuhan Yangtze River arrived last season, and even younger options such as Ci Henglong and Lu Ning have played at least once while the club attempted to find a successor to Wu Yake.

None of them succeeded, but Chen Yang will be hoping that Zou Dehai, who joins the club on a permanent deal from Bejing Guoan this off-season, will.

With Wu Yake already 33, the club have brought in soon-to-be 31-year-old Zou Dehai from the capital city, hoping that his years playing understudy will make him primed to take on a larger role.

Having played 73 league games for Hangzhou Greentown (now Zhejiang FC), Zou Dehai moved to Beijing and was the first-choice goalkeeper in his debut season in 2019, helping the club to second in the Chinese Super League with 28 appearances to his name.

Subsequent seasons have seen him play far fewer games for the Imperial Guard, with Hou Sen the preferred choice, and he leaves Workers’ Stadium with 49 total appearances for the club.

He will compete with Wu Yake for the starting spot, but it’s more than likely that he’ll be given a genuine chance to make the position his own. After all, why would he leave Beijing, where he was a backup, for Changchun if the only position was to be a backup again?

Defensive Options

With the team leaning fairly attack-minded, Chen Yang has also worked to address defensive pockets around the team. Most notable is the arrival of 26-year-old Li Shenyuan on loan from Shanghai Port.

A natural right back, Li Shenyuan has made 67 professional appearances in spells with Port and Inner Mongolia Zhongyou, contributing four goals and seven assists throughout his career to date.

Stuck behind veteran and Chinese international Wang Shenchao, Li Shenyuan will be expected to land the starting role at Changchun Yatai, providing the team with some experience but also a hunger to perform with the opportunity he has been given.

The move could be viewed as an upgrade on last season’s preferred option, Abduhamit Abdugheni, known simply as Hamit, but having competition between the pair should bring out the best in them and give Changchun some genuine options there, avoiding the need to recall Yan Zhiyu to the lineup.

Alongside Li Shenyuan is 25-year-old Zhang Huachen, who arrives at Nanling Stadium on a free transfer. The defensive midfielder has been involved with Shanghai Port since he joined the team’s academy back in 2014, making his first-team debut for the club in 2017.

Since then, he has made 71 appearances in all competitions, including a ten-game loan spell at Nantong Zhiyun in 2020. With Serginho and Zulj primarily attack-minded midfielders, having an experienced CDM will be useful for the team and Zhang Huachen could find himself playing frequently for Chen Yang.

Promising Youth

Another player that the team has opted to sign on a permanent deal is less of a fresh face, as Tian Yuda played for the club on loan from Beijing Guoan last season.

Originally on the books at Shandong Taishan, 22-year-old Tian Yuda spent most of his early professional career on loan to clubs in the lower levels, having spells with Hebei Elite, Beijing BSU and even China Under-20s before joining the capital city club.

He managed just four appearances with the Imperial Guard before spending the 2023 season on loan with Changchun. Scoring one headed goal in four league appearances, five in all competitions, the towering youngster clearly impressed enough and has moved back to the Northeast on a permanent deal.

He may be viewed as more of a long-term option by the club, with Chinese international Tan Long set to turn 36 years old in April, and he could be a project that they believe can develop into a regular first-team player after spending more time on the bench and learning from some of the more experienced players around him.

With Changchun Yatai set to take on Shandong Taishan in the newly revised opening fixture of the league season on March 1st, Chen Yang will be satisfied that he has brought in an adequate group of new signings and will be keen to see how many of them can snap up starting roles right out of the gate.