Shanghai Shenhua’s managerial merry-go-round continued its ceasless spinning in the close season when the club appointed 55-year-old Xi Zhikang to the management hotseat – the club have appointed a new coach every year for the past six seasons. English language information on Xi is hard to come by – but contributor Smari steps forward with the lowdown on The Shanghai Loyalist.
For the past 16 years, Xi Zhikang has been contributing to Shanghainese football management. Before that, as a player, he turned for Shanghai teams for his entire career. As a manager, he’s been in charge at Shanghai Yuyuan Football Club, Shanghai Ladies Team, Shanghai Hangxing Football Team, Shanghai Pudong, Shanghai Jiuyun, and now, the prestigious Shanghai Shenhua Football Club.
Xi Zhikang earned the “Shanghai football firefighting caretaker” reputation due to being often hired as a caretaker manager. In 1998, when Brazillian Muricy Ramalho was dismissed from Shenhua, Xi Zhikang was immediately hired to handle the mess. And in 2000, when Robert Houghton was fired as Shanghai Pudong coach, Xi was asked to take over the club again.
When asked for his view of being a ‘firefighter’ for Shanghainese football, Xi Zhikang said, “Whatever the boss tells me to do, I just do whatever he requests. Perhaps it is because I had managed Pudong football team for a while, I was the first candidate to be hired as caretaker manager.”
Xi Zhikang started his career as football manager since 1994. He established himself in the Jia B League, the second tier of Chinese football during that time. From promotion with the Shanghai Yuyuan team to the Jia A League, to helping Shanghai Hangxing to avoid relegation, these experiences made Xi become famous in Chinese football circles. In 2000, during the football tournament of the National Games of the People’s Republic of China, Xi managed the Shanghai team and led a team of famous players, such as Du Wei and Yu Tao, to a silver place victory.
Xi Zhikang is notorious for his tedious training regime. Many players complained about his schedule. Xi required his players to train three times daily. The players had to wake up at 6:30am for the first training, attend the second training before noon, and finish the final training during the afternoon.
Xi’s main assets and expertise include:
1. Experience with nurturing youth players.
2. Emphasis on physical training.
3. Understanding of traditional Shanghainese style football (focusing on short passing).
4. Humble and approachable (comparing to former Shenhua coach Miroslav Blažević, who is more aggressive and egotistical).
5. Knowledge of international football.
Xi Zhikang took up the reins at Shanghai Shenhua team at the start of this season and the results have been patchy so far. Shenhua had a slow start in the China Super League campaign and they are now ranked fourth. Shenhua was also knocked out of the Asian Champions League, earning a mere two points from five games. It remains to be seen if Xi Zhikang can do any better than his predecessor Miroslav Blažević.