Nine months after leaving over unpaid wages former Argentina manager Sergio Batista is back in the Shanghai Shenhua hotseat, with the club’s top striker Firas al-Khatib hailing the South American’s return a new start for the club.
In a turbulent start to the 2014 season, Shenhua have dominated the CSL headlines yet again – this time a string of protests regarding the clubs ownership have not helped by poor performances on the pitch.
The year started well with a 2-0 away win in the Shanghai derby against Shenxin but results have been poor since, a 3-1 home loss to Hangzhou Greentown, a 2-0 away loss to rivals Beijing Guoan and a 0-0 draw with newly promoted Henan Jianye.
Shenhua striker Firas al-Khatib, speaking exclusively to Wild East Football, is confident that the return of their former coach will help turn things around for this Sunday’s away tie at Changchun Yatai.
“Batista is a good coach and has good experience in the CSL, he knows the players and I wish him luck. He can improve the team because he likes to play in a more offensive way which is what we need,” said the 30 year old.
“I hope we will have a new start from the next game.”
With only 3 goals in their first 4 games, Shenhua have struggled to hit form as has al-Khatib, who hit the back of the net 11 times in 2013. The former Syrian international striker, who made his name with Al-Arabi and Al-Qadsia in the Kuwaiti Premier League where he was a two time top scorer, is not short of drive and determination though and pulls no punches about the start to 2014.
“We have not done well so far, we have just four points and should have at least nine. We have lost five points at home so far this season,” he said.
Shenhua fans have been very outspoken on the takeover of Greenland Group and their decision to change the clubs name which reported they had back tracked on. The fans even quoted Chinese president Xi Jingping on the importance of tradition and culture, a banner which was later confiscated.
For al-Khatib though, it is about what happens on the pitch and he notes that with the arrival of Batista only one win is needed for his side to regain their desire for the fans who have passionately followed this season despite off field issues.
“We need just one win to get the trust back in ourselves and that will help us for all the future games, we hope the Shenhua spirit will help us to win,” he said.
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 @peteydavis
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015