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Lee Jangsoo: The best, and most unlucky, manager in China

The news that Lee Jangsoo was fired came as an absolute shock to me, the strict Korean manager has done everything he could for Guangzhou Evergrande and had just miraculously led them out of the group stage. The man has worked magic everywhere he’s gone in China and has won more trophies than any other current Chinese Super League manager.

Lee’s record in China speaks for itself:
Chongqing Lifan 1998-2001 
Won the CFA Cup in 2000, had them in the top 5 in two of his four seasons with the club.
Qingdao Jonoon 2001-2003
Won the CFA Cup in 2002, had them in or near the top 10 each of his seasons there
Beijing Guoan 2006-2009
Deserves all the credit for their Chinese Super League title in 2009, during his other seasons they were runners up once and finished third twice. When he was fired, the club was in first place with a month of the season left.
Guangzhou Evergrande 2010-2012
Won the China League in 2010 and the Chinese Super League in 2011, saw them through to the ACL Round of 16 in 2012. When he was fired, the club was in first place a third of the way through the season.

However, titles aren’t enough for Evergrande boss Xu Jiayin, nor does it matter if one’s qualified for the job, he’s just a star fucker who wants the most famous manager he can get. In Marcello Lippi, Xu’s got himself a great manager, he’s won the Serie A five times and has a Champions League and World Cup medal in his trophy case. Yet Lippi has never coached outside of Italy, the headaches of dealing with a translator all the time and adjusting to a wholly foreign culture will be totally new to him.

When he gets to Guangzhou he’ll have to deal immediately with a team rife with internal problems and prima donna superstars who think they are above the team. He’ll also have to deal with the malaise that has set in down south after winning the title last season, nobody seems to care much anymore. And an owner prone to making asinine decisions (like firing the manager who just won you a title the year before and is was on his way to winning you another one).

So once again, Lee’s very unlucky. When he was fired late in 2009, it was publicly because of a bad run of form, though speculation in the capital has long been that he was fired because the club didn’t want to see a Korean lead the club to its first title. This time around it once again appears to have little to do with performance, despite the constant public denials issued by Guangzhou and their statements of support for Lee, in the end it seems Xu wants to upgrade his manager, and what he wants, he gets.

With Barrios on the way, there will be no excuses for Lippi, he’ll have to learn about his players right away and the pressure will be on. Nothing short of the Chinese Super League title and a good run in the ACL will be acceptable. As for Lee, his quality and experience are sure to have him in high demand. With Qingdao struggling in the cellar, a return to the eastern coast may be the most likely bet, but Lee is sure to be on the speed dial of any club owner that is considering firing his manager in the next few weeks.

No manager, Chinese or foreign, has been more successful in handling Chinese Super League clubs than Lee, whether Lippi knows it or not, he has some big shoes to fill. Good luck, Old Lee, you’ll find a new position and earn the love of yet another set of fans very soon.


Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.



  1. BulaimeiShenhua

    17/05/2012 at 14:35

    Shocked to see that Evergrande made Lee go. Big mistake, I reckon. I wish him all the best and hope to see him on a CSL-bench soon, guiding another team to glory.

    • Football_Fan

      18/05/2012 at 02:04

      Disagree, though i’m a big fan of Lee but this time Boss Xu made the right decision to hire BIG NAME coach Lippi…
      Lee would find it increasingly tough to manage the ego of his superstars players especially Conca and Lucas Barrios…sooner or later he will have to go and perhaps manage lesser team…maybe bcoz he’s (asian)?
      Unfortunately, for such an ambitious team like GZ, they will have to hire an even bigger superstar coach…
      i bet that Conca now will feel so small with the arrival of Marcello Lippi…

      • BulaimeiShenhua

        18/05/2012 at 11:22

        Thanks for replying, I am not sure about this, but the future will tell. A lot of people have been shaking their heads on Weibo about this. To my understanding it was the club banning Conca for nine games, this did not happen on Lee’s behest, so who is sure that he had problems with the stars. However, as you pointed out, there might be a bit of unrest and disruptions in the dressing room that I am unaware of between Chinese players and the South Americans which Lippi possibly can sort out.

        There is another issue about the hiring of Lippi which worries me. Italians put a lot of emphasis on defense, I am not saying you don’t need to put attentions to defense, but it seems to me that the most difficulties in the Chinese game stem from teams not being able to score. Take the foreigners away at GZ and they will find themselves in some difficulties as well. I think Lippi’s approach to football maybe outdated, too much emphasis on defense. But then again, this is something to see in the future and I may not be right about this.

        We will see, Hengda’s neighbour Fuli shows that it can work with superstars and a no superstar coach but one who has a concept and clear idea of how he would play. I just feel it is a bit unfair as Lee has brought the team that far, but we can’t change it anyway.

        I for myself look forward to the GZ matches with FC Tokyo in the AFC Champions League and I wish Hengda well, because it is good to have such a team in the Chinese league as it pushes others. GZ didn’t just buy themselves a good team, yes, they do have the financial backing, like Shenhua has, but in contrast to Shenhua, Hengda always had a clear mind and approach. I hope this will gradually improve the quality of Chinese football, the Chinese league and, of course, Chinese players.

        • bcheng

          18/05/2012 at 14:57

          If you look back to my writings on Evergrande last year, I was actually worried about team unity then. They have a lot of Chinese national teamers who would be starters pretty much anywhere else, but are on the subs bench in GZ. Add to that the South Americans and their own egos and you have a powder keg. Last season there were no difficulties, but this year, it’s not going so well.

          You’re right, the Conca suspension was club initiated, Lee wanted a 2 match suspension, but Boss Xu insisted on 9 games.

          I think Lippi’s going to be able to handle the locker room better than Lee did, but I’m not sure about how he’s going to adapt to China, that’s going to be the biggest issue.

          • BulaimeiShenhua

            18/05/2012 at 17:44

            Thanks bcheng, I wasn’t aware of this, I will have a read of some of your previous stories.

            A question to you as Guo’an supporter, are you happy with Lee’s successors in Beijing since 2009? Or do you still miss his style, tactics and legacy at the club, although it is surely dangerous to look back into the glory days of the past when football is evolving the whole time and you need to make an effort to keep up (which is one reason I doubt Lippi a bit and which I am also experiencing as Werder Bremen supporter since the last 4 years, we had our manager since 1999 and continuously more people want him replaced right now, he is in that seat exactly because he won some major trophies in the past).

  2. Kimo

    18/05/2012 at 15:34

    This move was coming for a long time. I think Lee was only brought in for the short term. He got them back up from the second division, got them settled back in the CSL, won the league and got them through to the knockout stages of the ACL.

    It’s quite simple that Lee is not a big name coach. Perhaps in Asia he is, but by signing Lippi, Xu Jiayin is looking to make Evergrande into a global brand. Whether this works is unknown right now.

    However, Evergrande’s name is now running across Europe and the rest of the world with this hiring. It may not make them as popular as Man Utd, Real Madrid, Barcelona or other clubs, but they are going to talked about more from now on.

    Lee should not have gotten the sack, but it is clear that this move was more for business reasons rather than football.

    • Yiddo Huayi

      18/05/2012 at 15:56

      Those are all good points Kimo, but surely underlying any of those business reasons is a successful club?

      If those are the reasons for the change then what is so special about doing it now, when they have only just scraped into the next round of the ACL and are only a third of the way through their domestic season?

      Maybe Hengda aren’t the Man City of the CSL, maybe more like Liverpool…

    • bcheng

      18/05/2012 at 17:16

      You make a very valid point, IF you believe Lippi is going to do a better job than Lee in charge of Evergrande. Yes, people are talking about Evergrande, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if people in Europe are talking about them, what matters is that they win the CSL.

      Look at Shenhua who are kind of a joke (though since Anelka’s a failure, he’s basically being ignored), that’s not what Evergrande wants to become.

      • Kimo

        19/05/2012 at 17:21

        Shanghai Shenhua has been a joke since Zhu Jun penciled himself into a match against Liverpool several years ago.

  3. Damian Jones

    19/05/2012 at 10:11

    It’s a frigging disgrace !!! I’m a big fan of Lee and the way he has …HAD Guangzhou playing. WTF does Lippi know about Asian football and the players’ lifestyles?
    I’d have to agrre with the Green Turtle …. Mr Hengda is a starf**ker.
    If I didn’t have a season ticket I would seriously consider not supporting this guy’s club !

    This could be the beginning of the end of a very short Hengda footballing dynasty.

  4. Won Jin Um

    22/05/2012 at 11:23

    I don’t know about you guys, but seriously this is the same path like what CFA did with replacing Gao Hongbo with Camacho.

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