There was a big surprise Saturday afternoon when Tianjin Teda’s 18 man roster was released, Yu Dabao wasn’t on it. Yu was one of Tianjin’s brightest stars during the 2011 season, contributing 6 goals (and 6 assists) in 24 matches. He also single handedly pushed Tianjin to the CFA Cup title, scoring the game winning goal and winning Man of the Match honors.
The soon to be 24 year old started his career with his hometown club in Qingdao and stood out enough that Portuguese giants Beneficia came calling, bringing him over to their youth team, and later their first team. He spent four years in Portugal before returning to China in 2010 and signing with Tianjin. From the moment the CFA Cup ended, Yu was high on everybody’s list of offseason transfer targets, he’s a rare talent in China, as comfortable at striker as he is in the midfield, someone who can create goals, and a guy who actually looks like he’s having fun on the pitch.
With an expiring contract in the summer and uncertainty at Tianjin after the unpopular letting go of Arie Haan, Yu was highly expected to move, the only question was where. Beijing Guoan made the first move with what originally sounded like a lowball offer of RMB15 million, an offer that Tianjin never took seriously. Then the boringness set in. It wasn’t until after Chinese New Year at the beginning of February that transfer news really picked up again. Interest in Yu was focused heavily on two cities, Guangzhou and Dalian (and we gave Dalian the better chance back in December).
In the end, it came down to Dalian Aerbin and Guangzhou Evergrande. Dalian attempted to make it a package deal, purchasing Yu along with his fellow Tianjin star Chen Tao. From the start Dalian had the upper hand, Yu’s mother is from Dalian and was hoping Yu would play in northern China. Guangzhou has all the money, of course, and it looked (or looks?) like they’ve outspent Dalian for Yu’s services. Yu was left out of his team’s SuperCup lineup on Saturday, perhaps because he seemed extremely busy meeting with different club officials. Aerbin chairman Li Ming was in Guangzhou over the weekend and had a long meeting with Yu. The club’s offer was a RMB40 million (or $6.3 million) package for Yu and Chen, while Evergrande’s offer was expected to be in the neighborhood of an RMB25 million transfer fee and RMB3 million salary.
The latest rumors are that after a late evening meeting between Yu and Evergrande’s management, they’ve concluded a deal that will see him join the club for an RMB16 million transfer fee and an annual salary of RMB4 million for the next three seasons. Tianjin and Evergrande met yesterday afternoon and those meetings went late into the night. Nothing has been officially announced, but the media is reporting it like it’s a done deal (despite Aerbin’s Li Ming saying otherwise).
With Evergrande already stacked at the striker position and Conca playing the role of attacking midfielder, it’s not instantly apparent where Yu will fit in, though it definitely presents a good dilemma for Lee Jang-Soo. Early on last year I said that my biggest concern in Guangzhou was that Lee would be unable to manage all the different personalities on the side. While he did a good job of it last year (Cleo’s injury, which kept him out for much of the season, helped), this year it’s truly going to be a difficult task finding the minutes for everyone on the team and keeping them all happy. Yu is not the kind of player who will be happy sitting on the bench and while Dalian would have been the better fit for him, his decision to head south had to be based on his attraction to Evergrande playing on the big stage of Asia.
Yu’s teammate Chen Tao (left in the above picture) appears to be heading to Aerbin alone. A return to his Liaoning home should suite the Anshan native just fine, even if it means playing in Dalian. Chen’s an “old” 27 and though he showed signs of his old self with Tianjin, he’s not the dominant player he once was and while a great role player, he’s no longer a star. Yu’s signing is also significant for one other player, Evergrande has hit their limit of seven domestic transfers, taking themselves out of the Yang Zhi sweepstakes this season.