Lately the Chinese press has been gossiping about Wang Jianlin, the Chinese Roman Abramovich who owns a large chunk of China’s real estate market, investing a huge amount of money in Chinese football. It was rumoured that on top of Wang Jianlin’s agenda, the real estate mogul wants Gao Hongbo out, and he would open his chequebook to ensure that would happen. Is it almost time for Gao Hongbo to leave? Is this a similar situation to Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Guangzhou Evergrande, where money football changed the whole team? Wild East Football’s Smari brings you the story of Gao Hongbo’s national team tenure and how his position is under fire.
Since World Cup 2002, the Chinese Football Association (CFA) has hired a number of different coaches to facilitate Guozu’s entry into the World Cup. Unfortunately, the trio of Arie Haan (2002-2004), Zhu Guanghu (2005-2007), and Vladimir Petrovic (2007-2008) all failed to lead China to the World Cup.
Many of you might remember FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s golden comment to the CFA. Blatter mentioned that if China wants to go to the top level, they need to hire a manager that could communicate well with the players and that it would be best if the manager speaks the same language.
Perhaps Blatter’s comment finally passed through the bureaucratic ears of the CFA. After Petrovic was dismissed for failing his mission to take the Chinese National Team to the South African World Cup, the CFA decided to look for a Chinese coach and finally they were serious. They decided to make an open selection procedure to hire the best manager. Four managers were invited to interviews: Gao Hongbo (former Changchun Yatai manager who took the team to the 2007 champion), Yin Tiesheng (former caretaker manager for the Chinese National Team), Wu Jingui (former manager of Chinese Super League heavyweight Shanghai Shenhua), and Shen Xiangfu (former Chinese U-23 manager). After hours of rigorous examination and interviews, Gao Hongbo was selected the Chinese National Team manager.
Managerial Style and Achievements
Gao’s football philosophy is rather different than the past Chinese National Team managers. He prefers to use young players and rarely recalls the older generation players. He wants the team to focus on short passing and adapt a 4-5-1 formation. He is also known for his heavy emphasis on squad harmony.
Gao’s first game in charge was against the talented German National team. The national team was expected to lose heavily against the Euro 2008 runner-up. He raised many eyebrows when China drew 1-1 against the Germans and later defeated old Asian foe Iran 1-0. He later helped China qualified for the Asian Cup 2011.
Gao was also the first coach to end “Koreaphobia”, when China defied all odds to beat South Korea 3-0 in the East Asian Football Championship. China previously hadn’t defeated South Korea since 1978, a rare achievement that no other manager was able to achieve for 32 years.
Finally, it was time for the prestigious Asian Cup 2011 tournament; this was the first true test for Gao. Many football fans expected Gao Hongbo to take China to a higher level, and not repeat the failure of Asian Cup 2007 (where the team failed to pass through the group stage). He took the youngest ever Chinese team to the Asian Cup 2011 in Qatar. Despite winning 2-0 in the first game against Kuwait, déjà-vu happened. Gao unconvincingly lost 2-0 to the hosts, and miserably drew 2-2 to Uzbekistan. Gao Hongbo’s tactics were heavily criticized by the Chinese media and netizens. After the team’s dismissal from the Asian Cup, many netizens branded Gao Hongbo as a ‘noob’ and asked for his head.
The Chinese Football Association quickly announced Gao Hongbo will continue to be the manager of the national team, and that he was expected to qualify for the World Cup in 2014.
After the disastrous Asian Cup 2011 campaign, Gao Hongbo made several changes to his selection. He recalled veterans Li Weifeng and Zheng Zhi back to the squad. During the first friendly after the World Cup, China played an away game against Costa Rica, where they conceded two goals before halftime leading to further discontent online. However, Gao was able to engineer a 2-2 comeback draw, with Gao Lin scoring the equalizer in the dying minute of the match. Gao continued his fine run in friendlies by defeating World Cup finalists Honduras 3-0 and North Korea 2-0 at home. He also defeated Uzbekistan 1-0 to ensure China remain as the fifth best team in the AFC zone.
Lately, the Chinese media announced that Chinese real estate mogul Wang Jianlin is interested in investing in Chinese football. In order to establish his status in the Chinese football circle, it is rumoured that Wang is willing to offer CFA 50 million RMB (renminbi) to hire a foreign coach. The media also reported that the CFA has always been interested in hiring a top foreign coach, but budget constraints restricted their choice. The media mentioned that Guus Hiddink and Frank Rjikkard have been contacted, and the earliest change will come in September. When Gao was asked about his stance toward the possible managerial change, Gao said “as long it is a good decision for Chinese football, I would open my arms to the change”.
Your Call: Should Gao Hongbo be replaced by a foreign coach?
Gao Hongbo is known to be a good man-motivator who has good knowledge of the Chinese Super League players. His achievements include qualifying for Asian Cup 2011, ending “Koreaphobi”a, winning the 2011 East Asian Football Championship, and earning good results against European teams (e.g. beating France 1-0 and drawing Germany 1-1).
However, some of the down sides are failing to advance through the group stage in Asian Cup 2011, dire performance in a couple of friendlies (e.g. losing 4-0 to Uruguay and 4-1 to Saudi Arabia), and awkward tactics that cost games (e.g. during China vs. Qatar, Gao made three very early substitutions and when Zhao Peng was injured late, China had to play 10 men against Qatar).
Should Gao stay or leave? Your call.
Gao Hongbo’s Statistics:
Win: 20 matches
Draw: 11 matches
Lost: 5 matches
Total: 36 matches
Winning Percentage: 55.56%
*The above stats include the friendly games against Portugal (2-0 China lost) and Iraq (3-2 China won). The two friendly matches were not recognized by FIFA because both teams used more than the allocated substitution slots.
** Some of the opponents used B-team instead of first team (e.g. the 3-0 victory over Estonia and 1-0 victory over Macedonia)
*** The friendly against New Zealand in March 2011 was not included because it was managed by the caretaker (Gao Hongbo was managing the Costa Rica game during that time)
**** The statistics are gathered from: http://teamchina.freehostia.com/en/index.php?y1=2009&y2=2011 (might have discrepancies than the statistics posted on the Chinese National Team Wikipedia page)