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Inside Chinese Football: Guangzhou Evergrande’s Translator

The close season is in full swing and solid news is a little hard to come by –  transfer rumors and pictures of sides training in warmer climates dominate. So Wild East Football digs deep to take a look in the run up to the 2014 season at some of the more interesting roles and characters involved in the Chinese game.

Anyone who has tried to explain of the offside trap to their mates down the pub will know how tricky it can be even when talking to familiar persons who all have the same native language. Now think about having the same conversation in Chinese, then Italian, now French…

This is the day job of 24-year-old Gian Matteo Mannering (far right of main picture),  who deals with translating the intricacies of coaching and daily life in China with the staff of Guangzhou Evergrande. As his name suggests, Gian has an international background. Born to a British father and an Italian mother in Germany, he spent most of his teen years in China, after moving from Hamburg to Beijing and then Shanghai.

He studied at Jiaotong University in Shanghai before moving to Switzerland at the Glion Institute of Higher Education. Mannering’s work experience began with six months at the Mutua Madrid Tennis Masters on the way to a dream job working alongside World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi, Chinese legend Li Tie, former Juventus goalkeeper Michelangelo Rampulla not to mention players like Zheng Zhi, Dario Conca, Zhang Linpeng and Kim Young-Gwon.

Wild East Football’s Peter Davis spoke to him recently to find out more about him, his role with the Asia and CSL Champions and what it’s like to work with Mister Lippi.

Gian, you have a pivotal job in Chinese football, translating between Marcello Lippi, his staff and the Chinese side, what does your job entail?

There are many nationalities involved in the Chinese Super League for example Brazilians, Spaniards and Australians and communication between players, coaches and other staff is key. It is our job to make this as accurate as we possibly can.

Personally I mostly attend to our goalkeeping coach for training sessions and pre-match warm up and most times I am physically involved. Being passionate about football myself, it’s a position that has you surrounded by many different situations. We must be available to all technical staff during most hours of the day for any need necessary.

With such an international environment, Evergrande must be as hard a job as there is, how do you find it personally?

I was born in Germany and grew up with four languages, my father is British, my mother is Italian, I went to a French school and learned the local language. Being exposed to many cultures from a young age, by going to international schools and living abroad, it gave me the capability to integrate with people who have different habits.

The fact that I speak five languages also helps a lot, especially with communication. With the team being composed of Brazilians, Italians and Argentinians I don’t find it hard to have conversations with anyone frankly.

It must be a massive honor to work with Lippi, just how knowledgeable is he?

In my opinion Marcello Lippi is one of the most knowledgeable coaches out there. For us Italians he is the symbol of success, having won numerous championships, Champions League, and obviously the World Cup, a goal that every coach wants to reach before the end of their career.

''For us Italians he [Lippi] is the symbol of success'' says Mannering

”For us Italians he [Lippi] is the symbol of success” says Mannering

The achievements here in China, having won the CSL two seasons in a row, one CFA Cup, and now winning the AFC Champions League just adds to the fact that Lippi has earned his place in football history. Imagine being the only coach in the world to win both the European and Asian champions league and the World cup!

How did it feel on that bench as Evergrande won the Asia Champions League?

As an Italian it’s obvious that we have a certain passion for this sport but physically sitting on that bench brings it to a whole other level where the adrenaline, anger, and frustration gets multiplied. Finally, the whistle was blown, an explosion of joy from everyone on the bench filled the air along with over 40,000 fans!

It was extraordinary. Rarely do I cry for anything, but looking at the players congratulating each other, the coaches and I grouped up, and all those red t-shirts waving created many tears. Coach Lippi said to me “Cry! Now you feel the reality of being champions!”

How was it seeing Evergrande face Bayern Munich in a competitive match?

When it was official that we were going to take part in the FIFA Club World Cup I really hoped we would have the opportunity to play against them. I wanted to see how much we grew as a team.

Personally I think they are the top club in the world at the moment and their style of play reflects Guardiola’s philosophy but we played well against them. We had our opportunities to score, unfortunately it didn’t happen, but all in all we were happy with our performance.

What has it been like to see Elkeson flourish like he has?

Elkeson is a very skilled player, and joining our team has allowed him to grow. His first matches were very impressive, with an average of two goals per match! The fans adore him and he really appreciates all their support. I wish him a great and successful career. He’s young and has a great future ahead of him.

Communication is key in daily life in China, do you struggle even being multilingual?

I’ve been living in China since 1994, between Beijing and Shanghai. At first it was shocking, not just because I was very young but also things seemed very different to what I was used to.

I slowly got used to the culture, food, mentality and obviously learned Chinese as it was the only way to speak with people. As of now communication would be the least of my problems, on average I use four languages every day so it’s quite normal if I get mixed up halfway through a sentence because of so much vocabulary in my head.

How does a translator deal with difficult situations? Have you had to break any bad news to anyone?

Well our position places us in the middle of a two-way conversation, acting as a bridge, and when things don’t go the way they should its normal to feel nervous, stressed, and more involved. But in the end the truth is that we are translating the conversation, therefore nothing comes out as an opinion but rather a fact.

Feelings can get in the way but that must not have any effect on the outcome of the conversation. Reporting negative news is always tough because one imagines the possible reactions, but its part of our job, helps us resist stressful situations and increases our ability to deal with them in a shorter amount of time.

You speak a lot of languages, have you considered learning more?

I already get confused at times with the five languages that I know but I like learning them and want to add Portuguese to my repertoire.

I’ve bought an English to Portuguese dictionary, research online and practice the basic things with Conca, Muriqui, and Elkeson! I’m planning on studying it in the near future.

Thanks for talking with us Gian, best of luck in 2014

Thanks for the opportunity!

Beijing-based Peter Davis has followed Chinese football since 2008 and is a regular contributor to Wild East Football. He can be found on Twitter and Weibo at @peteydavis

Pete is from Sheffield, England and came to China in 2008 initially living in Shenyang where he witnessed his first CSL game, Liaoning Whowin v Chengdu Blades. Pete is a fanatic Sheffield Wednesday fan but has picked up football allegiances from various trips, Galatasary in Turkey, Piacenza in Italy and Muangthong United in Thailand. In early 2009 he moved to Beijing and after a brief time started attending Guoan games regularly. Pete graduated in Journalism in the UK and has written for several educational publications on Chinese education for his day job as well as Chinese football for WEF which he wishes was more developed but avidly follows the Imperial Guards on their quest for CSL supremacy regardless.

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