The 2014 China League One season kicked off last weekend with two more teams looking to reach the Chinese Super League and follow in the footsteps of last season’s champions Henan Jianye and runners up Harbin Yiteng.
The likes of Guangzhou Evergrande, Jiangsu Sainty, Dalian Aerbin and Liaoning Whowin have passed through the league in recent years, showing the historic strength of the competition.
Players and managers have changed alike and the start of being the next Guangzhou Evergrande is now. Wild East Football looks at the promotion candidates, the mid-table battle and the teams who may be fighting at the wrong end of the table in 2014.
The Promotion Candidates
Chongqing Lifan, last season- 4th in China League One on 56 points
Chongqing Lifan will look to build on an impressive 2013 and return to the CSL promised land they left four years ago. Lifan retained Guto whose goal scoring record of a goal every other game should not be overlooked, added to that is the big signing of China international Wang Dong from Changchun Yatai who has bags of experience. Defenders Liu Yu and Chen Lei from Dalian Aerbin also bring international and top tier influence.
Lifan have also added Brazilians Elias and Lincoln from Bragantino in place of defender Yves Herman to Qingdao Hainiu and Bolivian international Gualberto Mojica who headed home to Oriente Petrolero. With Zhang Chiming, Cheng Mouyi and Wu Qing also still at Lifan, it is very difficult to look past them as promotion candidates in 2014.
Guangdong Sunray Cave, last season- 3rd in China League One on 57 points
See the full club preview elsewhere on .
Top scorer Dori leaving for Harbin Yiteng in the CSL will be Guangdong’s biggest loss and he is replaced by 27 year old striker Petar Jelić capped twice by Bosnia.
Re-signing Guangzhou Evergrande striker Ye Weichao is important as is holding onto defender and captain Liu Tao, the club retain the same quite the same side that lost out on promotion in 2013 but they may miss Dori’s 21 goals.
Qingdao Hainiu, last season- 1st in China League Two (Promoted)
Busy is not even the word with 25 departures following promotion and 19 players brought in the new boys will be an interesting side to watch in 2014.
Estonian international striker Vladimir Voskoboinikov, former Charlton Athletic man Kelly Younga and Yves Herman from Chongqing Lifan are joined by a host of new Chinese signings. Some were on loan last season, none of which are over 30 and all have Chinese Super League experience. Yu Ziqian has enjoyed successive promotions with Dalian Aerbin, Li Kai has two years at Guizhou Renhe under his belt and Yu Guijun over 150 appearances for Guangzhou R&F to name a few. Backed by Chinese legends Hao Haidong and Qi Wusheng, the China League One new boys wouldn’t be a bad bet to better their relegated neighbors Jonoon and will be a tricky side in 2014.
Qingdao Jonoon, last season- 15th in Chinese Super League (Relegated)
After over 15 years at the top in China, Qingdao Jonoon suffered heartache with relegation to the second tier by one point on the last day of the 2013 season.
As expected, all five foreigners have departed the club and some in very bitter ways; Joel Griffiths had to report the club to FIFA while Gabriel Melkam released a video following Jonoon’s decision to blame him for match fixing. They have been replaced by Costa Rican Mauricio Castillo, Honduran international Osman Chávez and 2012 Chinese Super League Golden Boot striker Cristian Dănălache. Wang Jun arrives from Dalian Aerbin as does former Shenhua forward Mao Jianqing on loan from Beijing Guoan but Jonoon suffered a huge loss with the departure of Liu Jian to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Shenzhen Ruby, last season- 5th in China League One on 49 points
The most significant change has been the departure of former Japan and Marseille coach Phillippe Troussier to be replaced by retired 34 year old China international striker Li Yi, while on the player front Shenzhen parted with French midfielder Benjamin Gavanona and Japanese midfielder Takashi Rakuyama retired. Also of note, 24 year old midfielder Dilmurat Batur from Xinjiang departed for Al-Oruba SC in Oman. The club also lost Taiwanese national team captain Chen Poliang to Shanghai Shenhua.
Key to success will be 27 year old Senegal international striker Babacar Gueye who has a crazy 46 goals in 55 games at the club while new signings Giuseppe Aquaro, Bruno, Li Fei and Godfred Karikari should see Shenzhen comfortably in the top five.
The Mid-table Battle
Beijing Baxy, last season- 7th in China League One on 41 points
Baxy started a strange transfer window with the reported captures of Wang Shouting and Wang Changqing from Shanghai Shenhua only for them to return to Shanghai after the transfers were announced. Ryan Griffiths confirmed he would leave at the end of the 2013 season and moved to A-league side Adelaide United (now Sarawak in Malaysia), Stephen Makinwa has reported the club to FIFA as revealed and the club also confirmed the departure of former China international Hu Zhaojun.
A pair of 28 year old strikers, Julián Lalinde from Uruguay and Felipe from Brazil came in along with experienced keeper Jiang Bo from Hangzhou Greentown arrived as did bit part players Li Zhichao and Liu Bin. The club will rely heavily on last season’s stand out performer, Romanian Lucian Goian and the experienced Lu Jiang of they are to replicate last season’s performance.
Chengdu Tiancheng, last season- 14th in China League One on 29 points
Finally dropping the ‘Blades’ name, Tiancheng avoided relegation only on goal difference last season after a recent history plagued by match fixing.
Algerian international winger Salim Arrache, formerly of Marseille, looks a good signing as does Brazilian defender Matheus from Ukrainian Premier League side Metalurh Zaporizhya while Brice Jovial back at the club from Dijon after scoring 10 in 2013. Slovenian international Aleksandar Rodic and Estonian international Raio Piiroja are out. Ma Chongchong and He Bin have been brought in on loan from Henan Jianye and should impress with experienced midfielders Gao Xiang and Wang Kai still in the side while the club sold first teamer Yang Zezhi to Hangzhou Greentown.
Hebei Zhongji, last season- 2nd in China League Two (Promoted)
Uruguayan coach Nelson Agresta signed three Uruguayans as his foreigners for the necomers, defender Martin Rodriguez from B.I.T., defender Andres Fernandez and forward Andres Marquez.
The Shijiazhuang club has also signed well on the Chinese front with former Manchester United youth Dong Fangzhou, Uyghur-Chinese defender Otkur Hesen from Shandong Luneng and former Eintracht Frankfurt youth Du Wenhui. Elsewhere the squad is quite an unknown quantity for 2014 but was widely touted for big things last year on their way to promotion.
Shenyang Zhongze (formerly Shenbei), last season- 6th in China League One on 47 points
Shenyang signed 24 year old forwards Yang Zhi from Hangzhou Greentown and Ni Bo from Guangzhou Evergrande as well as former China international goalkeeper Yang Jun also from Evergrande. The club retained Serbian defender Zoran Rendulić, well traveled Brazilian striker Jose Duarte and 26 year old Chinese midfielder Liu Chao who had a spell at Lithuanian side FK Sūduva, all of which will be important toward a steady 2014.
Shijiazhuang Yongchang, last season- 8th in China League One on 40 points
A decent 2013 and an excellent defensive record gave Shijiazhuang a respectable finish last season. 24 year old former Dalian Shide defender Jiang Jihong joins along with Guangzhou R&F midfielder Gao Zengxiang. All change for the foreign players with Brazilians Diego Giaretta, Carlão and Bulgarian international Georgi Iliev replacing New Zealand international Steven Old, Johnny Woodly and Park Jung-Soo.
Wuhan Zall, last season- 16th in Chinese Super League (Relegated)
Relegated from the CSL with 16 points, Wuhan have parted with 21 players since relegation including Bentley, Cho Won-Hee, Mei Fang, Garra Dembélé, Miloš Stojanović and many more, inbound are Uruguayans Sergio Leal, Danilo Peinado and Song Zhiwei from Hangzhou Greentown. Success will depend on their Chinese talent with the likes of Yao Hanlin and Tan Si while keeping hold of former Rennes man Jacques Faty will be huge for Wuhan.
The Relegation Strugglers
Beijing Institute of Technology, last season- 9th in China League One on 35 points
Uruguayan defender Abel Nazario was the only foreigner retained as the club sold his countrymen Martin Rodriguez and Danilo Peinaldo to fellow second tier sides Hebei Zhongji and Wuhan Zall respectively. In their places came 29 year old Brazilian striker Andre Nunes and defensive midfielder Julio Andrés Gutiérrez who returns for his third China spell.
On the Chinese front there has been little movement of note with Zhang Miao and Li Kuanglun retiring the club has brought in six squad players from various clubs, Meng Yang from Beijing Guoan among them.
Hunan Billows, last season- 12th in China League One on 30 points
All change in Hunan with Leandro Netto, Srebrenko Posavec, Emil Martinez, Du Wenhui, Tao Jin and Dong Fangzhou all departing. Serbian pair Jovan Damjanović and Stevan Bates both arrive from OFK Beograd and are joined by Luis Cabezas who finished his 2013 season in the CSL with Shanghai SIPG.
Hunan brought in half German defensive midfielder Andy Nägelein who qualifies as Chinese due to a Hong Kong passport, Nägelein had a spell at relegated Guizhou Zhicheng in 2013. 23 year old forward Mao Jiakang also arrives on loan from Shanghai SIPG to finish off their major signings, may struggle with a lack of Chinese depth.
Tianjin Songjiang, last season- 10th in China League One on 35 points
Brazilian striker Nei in and Colombian striker Martin Garcia out, Songjiang keep very much the same side, Xia Ningning the only other player of note. Wan Cheng and Hong Kong international Ng Wai Chiu will be key players if the club are to avoid relegation that they avoided by 6 points in 2013.
Xinjiang Tianshan Leopard F.C, last season- 13th in China League One on 30 points
Hubei Huakaier Football Club renamed and moved, not the biggest re-brand of the summer (Shenhua) but with the move to Ürümqi, Xinjiang this means competitive football for the autonomous region.
Sadly in terms of players, the side may struggle, they have experience with midfielders Wang Bo and Wang Wenhua and their biggest Chinese signing is Xinjiang native Bari Mamatil from Jiangsu Sainty.
The club keep Brazilian Vincente who has been in China since 2004 also adding Costa Rican Johnny Woodly and striker Dady from Shanghai Shenhua.
Yanbian Baekdu, last season- 11th in China League One on 31 points
Dropping the ‘Tigers’ from their name, Yanbian replace their two Korean players with two Korean players, forward Kim Do-Hyung and defender Won Tae-Yeon.
The Jilin based side have few Chinese players of note, signing Chen Xiao and Jiang Hongquan from relegated Guizhou Zhicheng, 2014 could be a bad year for Yanbian.
Also check out Wild East Football’s already published CL1 fan preview.
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.