We’re getting even closer to the kickoff of the 2013 Chinese Super League season. As we lead up to the start of the new season, we’ll preview a number of the sides, this time it’s the only team left by the northeastern seaside, big spending Dalian Aerbin.
The manager: This is perhaps the side’s weakest points, last season after a bad start under Chang Woe-Ryong, Aleksandar Stanojevic came in and worked wonders, leading the club up the table and achieving an impressive 5th place finish. He was allowed to go to Beijing Guoan in the off-season and Dalian local Xu Hong was quickly named the manager in hopes of unifying the Dalian clubs, but then he received a five year ban for match fixing, leaving the club scrambling for a manager. GM Li Ming, a great football mind, is taking over as manager until a replacement can be found, but with no experience in this position, it will be interesting to see how things work out.
The history: The club has the shortest history in the CSL, having only been founded in 2009, however they’ve been very effective, winning the division three title in 2010, then moving up to the China League and quickly winning that in 2011. Their first year in the top flight of Chinese football was an exciting one, they turned things around and managed a strong run, but dropped off a little late in the year, to finish in 5th place, just short of an Asian Champions League position.
The team: Although their attempt to unite with Dalian Shide was rejected, they were very active in the offseason adding a number of former Shide players and local Liaoning stars. The new signings are an impressive lot and include Yu Hanchao (China’s most expensive transfer ever), Chen Tao, and Li Xuepeng. Adding these new signings to an already strong side of foreign talent and Yu Dabao, there is reason for excitement in Dalian. Concerns about the squad’s depth and goal keeping, as well as the manager, are sure to haunt them early on, but if they can figure those out, expect big things from them.
The stadium: Once again the side will be playing at Jinzhou Stadium, in the newer special development area. The Qinggui gets you from the city center to Jinzhou, then there are plenty of buses and taxis to get you the rest of the way to the stadium. There are also supporter buses that depart from near where People’s Stadium used to stand. Ticket boxes exist around the stadium and there are plenty of touts who sell tickets for around face value.
The changes: In many ways you’ll be seeing a totally new Aerbin side in 2013, as the club will have a new manager and all five domestic signings added during the winter transfer window are sure to feature heavily. The club is focused on promoting local football, with all their signings coming from Liaoning province (indeed, with the exception of Chen Tao, they’re all from Dalian). Expectations are high for Yu and Chen to excel, but those aren’t the only changes, with the addition of PSG striker Guillaume Hoarau. The only concern is how long it will take them to all get on the same page.
The foreigners: Aerbin have arguably the most impressive group of foreigners in the CSL. Beyond the previously mentioned Hoarau, the club features former Barcelona players Seydou Keita and Fábio Rochemback. They also have the highly experienced Peter Utaka, who made a big difference last season. The club failed to sign an Asian player, but will have a second chance to do so in the summer, if they make a good addition it could be enough to lead them up the table.
The star: For all the new signings, this is still Yu Dabao’s side. With little help, he, alongside the club’s foreigners, kept them treading water last season until Keita joined in the summer and things really started taking off up north. This season he’ll once again be charged with leading the club.
The youngster: It’s hard to name just one, the three additions from Shide, Zhao Honglue, Li Xuepeng, and Yang Boyu, are all expected to make a difference, but if I have to pick one, it must be 24 year old Li. He was on the verge of a national team spot under Gao Hongbo and is a very versatile player who can feature in defense or midfield. At 24, he’s getting to the point where it’s hard to still classify him as “young”, it’s time for him to step up and show what he can do.
The x factor: It’s got to be Chen Tao, who has been a very average player over the past few seasons despite carrying a “big name” in Chinese football that saw him return to the national team under Camacho. In a very competitive midfield, if he can find his role and help out the side, possibly even return to his scoring ways, it’s bound to have a big impact on the side.
The prediction: Do they hae enough to win the ti tle this year? Yes. Will they? Well, that’s the million yuan question. After having spent so much money in the transfer window, they are expecting return on investment, especially considering the team’s past history of success. It really comes down to the job done by Li Ming (or whoever is brought in) as manager and the need to get his side to work together and gel. If they can do it, the title is within reach, but the overall opinion is that they fall just short and end up in the ACL.