We’re just days away from 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 team from the blue half of the Cantonese capital, Guangzhou R&F.
The manager: Brazilian boss Sergio Farias guided Guangzhou R&F to seventh place in his first season in charge last time out. Farias is an experienced coach and led Korean side Pohang Steelers to victory in the 2009 ACL; this season qualifying for that competition will be his main goal.
The history: Shorter than for many in the CSL. R&F have been playing in Guangzhou for one and a half seasons and their second full season in the city will also be their second in the CSL.
The team: Short on depth last year the team did very well to finish in seventh place and with three games to go were in third which would have been good enough for an ACL spot. This season sees a number of new faces arriving in Guangzhou which will significantly strengthen the squad.
The stadium: After an enforced move to the University City stadium midway through last season, renovation work has been carried out at Yuexiushan Stadium to allow a return there. Built in 1950, the stadium is in the heart of Guangzhou and has been given a face-lift including installing seats to replace the concrete bleachers, and can be easily reached by taking metro line 2 to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall station.
The changes: As mentioned above the club have been busy in the off-season and have added several experienced players. The pick of the signings is either ex-Dalian Shide captain and centre back Zhang Yaokun or forward Jiang Ning signed from city rivals Evergrande. Evergrande also provided winger Wu Pingfeng and defender Li Jianhua whilst Feng Zhouyi was picked up from the Chengdu Blades.
The foreigners: Unusually, all five overseas players from last year will be back, including Zumar who has been injured since June and definitely won’t be fit for at least the first four games. He is joined by fellow Brazilian midfielders Davi and Rapaehl Coelho who will play in support of Nigerian striker Yakubu. The Asian player slot will be filled by central midfielder Royston Griffiths who is looking to push on and win a call up to the Australian national side.
The star: Yakubu. The Nigerian arrived in the mid-season transfer window, scored nine CSL goals and also had an impact off the pitch as his arrival brought a considerable number of Guangzhou’s Nigerian population to the stands. With Drogba and Anelka both leaving Shanghai Shenhua over the winter, Yakubu is one of the most recognisable foreigners in the league and will hope for greater support play this year as he looks to continue his scoring form from last time.
The x factor: The Cantonese. As a relatively new club, R&F are aware of the need to increase their presence in Guangzhou and build a fan base. New signings Li Jianhua and Wu Pingfeng are from Guangdong as are existing squad members Wu Weian and fan favourite Lu Lin. Along with a return to Yuexiushan, a ground with strong links to Cantonese football, R&F hope that this will get more people to come out to support them.
The prediction ACL qualification is the goal and with a stronger and more experienced squad this year it could happen. However, R&F yet again find themselves with five foreign players signed but only four fit to play and last year’s first choice but injury prone centre back Xu Bo is out with an injury he picked up when with the national team. No new left back was signed either so it won’t be plain sailing but R&F will be disappointed of they don’t get into the top half of the table and challenge for an ACL place.