At the turn of the year, Henk ten Cate was appointed manager of Shandong Luneng and after less than a year, the Dutchman resigned from his post. The Jinan side is in the semi-finals of Chinese FA Cup but sits 12th in the CSL, just two points above the drop with only three wins in the last ten games and a disappointing loss to last place Henan a week ago. The 2006, 2008 and 2010 winners of the Chinese Super League could be forgiven for looking on this season as a disappointment.
Luneng’s official website broke the news, “Mr. Henk ten Cate is an internationally renowned coach, he has brought an advanced concept of European football and team practice, team training and style and a new meteorological focus…but following the loss at Henan Jianye, Henk ten Cate offered his resignation and the Luneng board have accepted it.”
He is replaced by Wu Jingui, who has never played a senior game of football but does have several spells in charge of Shanghai Shenhua and has worked with the Chinese national side. Wu, who was in charge of Hangzhou Greentown last season, has been named Technical Director and Caretaker Manager until the end of the current season. The choice is an unusual one, especially because Wu was let go and replaced by a “player’s committee” toward the end of last season in Hangzhou, with one of the committee’s heads being Du Wei, who joined Shandong during the summer transfer window.
With over two decades as a coach including spells as assistant manager of Chelsea and Barcelona and at the helm of Ajax, Ten Cate brought a wealth of experience to Chinese football but it seems he never managed to settle himself. Perhaps more worrying is admitting he did not understand Chinese football – “I’m not Chinese, of course, I do not understand the Chinese method of football.” Ten Cate then went on to explain Japan and South Korea’s models are better to reporters at Chinese website Sina, “China can only hire local coaches to lead their sides.”
Ten Cate continues, “I know I have made some mistakes in this process but I firmly believe that one day, when Chinese football finally reaches its next level, some people will thank me, it all comes down to professional coaches and players that value the support and care.”
This is not the first and won’t be the last case of a foreign coach not settling in China. Wild East Football covered Ten Cate’s arrival at the end of last year. Mentioned in the article were Jean Tigana (Shanghai Shenhua), Sergio Farias (Guangzhou R&F), Jan Versleijen (Henan), Chang Woe-Ryong (Dalian Aerbin), and Takeshi Okada (Hangzhou). Less than a year has passed and only two of the six remain in the same job!
Henk ten Cate is optimistic about the future for Shandong Luneng though, “I think there is a very good start for the next manager at Luneng, some games we played really nice, but because I am missing two very important players (currently injured Zhou Haibin and Roda Antar), the tactical system is imperfect and not balanced.”
The signing of exciting youngsters such as Simão Mate Júnior from Panathinaikos also leaves a good base for the next coach to work from, and I have no doubts Shandong Luneng will rise again next season.
However, Henk’s departure is yet another managerial movement which raises questions as to Chinese football clubs’ ability to get the best out of constant stream of foreign coaches coming to play their trade in the CSL.