The manager: Radomir Antic was shown the door despite finishing in 2nd place. Brazilian Cuca takes over with the mission being to capture some silverware. Cuca has a wealth of experience managing in Brazil and last season won the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro. He managed to beat Gangzhou Evergrande 3-2 in the 2013 Club World Cup and that was no doubt appealing to Shandong’s owners. Cuca was able to revitalize Ronaldinho’s play and hopefully can get the most out of Shandong’s Brazilian contingent.
The history: Shandong Luneng are located in Jinan, Shandong. Since Chinese football went professional in 1994 Shandong have never been relegated. They won the league in 1999,2006,2008,2010 and have won the FA Cup in 1995,1999,2004,2006.
The team: Last season, Shandong finished runners up to Guangzhou Evergrande. With the money being spent by ownership it looks like Shandong wish to release Evergrande’s strangle hold on the league. The team had trouble with them last year as well as 3rd place side Beijing Guoan. If Shandong are to make a serious run they have to learn how to deal with top sides.
The stadium: Shandong play their home matches at Jinan Olympic Sports Centre Stadium or Xiliu for short. It hosted the 11th National Games in 2009 and has a capacity of 60,000.
The changes: Big changes were made at Shandong in order to better challenge Guangzhou Evergrande for the league title. A new manager, three new foreign faces, and a couple new domestic players. The team that profited the most from Zhu Jun’s Shanghai Shenhua fire sale was Shandong as they were able to pick up Wang Dalei (25,GK) and Dai Lin (26,DF). Wang Dalei was Shenhua’s best player last year and most Shenhua fans were furious at his departure. Shandong also signed Zhang Wenzhao (26,MF) who played for Changchun in 2013.
The foreigners: Midfield veteran, Roda Antar (33,MF), joined Jiangsu Sainty with Leonardo Pisculichi (30,MF) and Gilberto Macena (29,ST) also leaving. Ryan McGowan (24,DF/MF) and Vagner Love (29,ST) remain with the squad. Shandong spent big to bring in Walter Montillo (29,MF), Junior Urso (24,MF), and Aloisio (25,ST). Montillo played for some top South American teams such as Universidad de Chile,Cruzeiro, and Santos. While at Santos Montillo played with international sensation Neymar. Aloisio will be looked to for goals and Junior Urso will fill in Antar’s role.
The star: I’ts hard to look past Vagner Love as the star. Last year’s biggest summer signing managed six goals in only 10 league appearances and always looked dangerous. On the domestic side, Wang Yongpo (27,MF) has been solid for the past few years after dropping some weight. He was with the club when they won the league in 2006, 2008, 2010 and the FA Cup in 2004 and 2006. For two seasons running, he has been in the CSL’s team of the year and was Shandong’s top scorer in 2013.
The youngster: Jin Jingdao (22,MF) was last year’s Young Player of the Year so more is expected of him this year. Shandong have a good youth academy though and give their youngsters chances so a new name could pop up.
The X factor: It all comes down to how all the new foreign faces can adapt to the league and China in general. Vagner Love should be able to help his countrymen, but Aloisio has moved to Europe only to return to Brazil due to culture clashes. China is a difficult place for a lot of foreign players to get used to especially if they are away from family.
The prediction: If Cuca can adapt to China and get the most out of his players I could definitely see the team winning the league. With the amount of investment the owners have put in the team any thing less than a Champions League spot will be a huge disappointment.