Jamie McIllroy cuts through the gossip to look at which deals are done and dusted so far in the close season
Perhaps the most significant transfer news of the month so far is that of Beijing Guo’an’s Zhang Xizhe’s imminent move to Wolfsburg of the Bundesliga. The move seems to be pretty much finalised and Zhang has already arrived in Germany for a medical. The transfer, reportedly for 1.5 million Euros, is exciting news for both Zhang and Chinese football as the 23-year-old will become the first Chinese player to feature in any of Europe’s big five leagues (Germany, England, Spain, Italy and France) since his fellow Wuhan native Hao Junmin left Germany’s Schalke 04 for Shandong Luneng in 2011.
With Wolfsburg currently sitting in second behind Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, there is a realistic chance that Zhang could appear in next season’s UEFA Champion’s League should he establish himself in the squad. If he fails to do so, Guo’an have stated that they desire the player, who they have nurtured since the age of eighteen, to return to Gongti to continue his career. It is a huge step for Zhang who has been out of favour with China national team coach Alain Perrin and was unsurprisingly left out of the Frenchman’s provisional 30 man Asian Cup squad. His output has declined slightly this year in comparison to 2013, but he is still a hugely influential and creative player and Guo’an should be given an enormous amount of credit for their willingness to let him go and test himself at a higher level, something other clubs have been reluctant to do in recent years.
One player who the Beijing club would have had far fewer reservations about letting go is 25-year-old centre back Yu Yang who has signed with Guangzhou R&F. Yu started twelve of fourteen games prior to the World Cup break in 2014 but made just one appearance afterwards as Lei Tenglong and Lang Zhang were favoured as partners to old stalwart Xu Yunlong. While he may have been surplus to requirements in the capital he will be more welcome in Guangzhou where R&F are seeking to give themselves more depth for a first ever Champion’s League campaign and continue to strengthen a back line that was far sturdier than the 2013 model but still managed to leak a significant numbers of goals in important matches.
Yu Yang will be joined at Yuexiushan by 20-year-old attacker Ye Chugui who has been signed from League Two outfit Meixian Hakka. The Guangdong native is one for the future but, having finished as last season’s League Two top scorer with ten goals on a mid-table side soon to relocate to Hainan from Guangdong, there is every possibility that the youngster will have a significant impact in the coming years.
Another team who will be looking to the future in 2015 will be Guizhou Renhe who will be entering next season without a trio of aging stars. Zvjezdan Misimovic, Jonas Salley and Sun Jihai – combined age 101 – are all leaving a club that showed signs of decline during their sixth placed finish last year, having come fourth and won the FA Cup in 2013. Of the three, only Misimovic is still wanted in Guiyang but the Bosnian creative midfielder, who was just one of three Super League players to start a game in the 2014 World up (along with Australia and Shandong Luneng’s Ryan McGowan and South Korea and Guangzhou Evergrande’s Kim Young-Gwon), has made clear his desire to return to Germany where he made his name alongside Edin Dzeko at Wolfsburg and where, more importantly, his family are based.
Conversely, both Salley and Sun were voluntarily released by Renhe in a move that signals a new look defence for 2015. Salley started every league game at centre back for Guizhou last season, while the irrepressible Sun completely ignored his 37 years to start twenty-three Super League matches and several Champion’s League contests alongside the Australian. The fate of both players remains unknown but Sun, who is probably the most internationally well known Chinese player on account of the six years he spent with Manchester City, seems to have little interest in retiring. He has recently reiterated his continued desire to play and has been linked with the newly promoted Chongqing Lifan and his newly relegated hometown club Dalian Aerbin.
Guizhou will not be the only team going into 2015 with two new centre backs as Brazilian Paolo Andre has been shown the door by Shanghai Shenhua not long after regular partner Cho Byung-Kuk suffered the same fate. The 2014 FA Cup semi-finalists are currently being linked with Zambia’s African Cup of Nations winning centre back Stoppila Sunzu. The 25-year-old currently plays with Sochaux in France’s Ligue 2 which is also a former club of new Shenhua manager Francis Gillot.
Speculation aside, Shenhua have been busy with domesitc signings – Wang Yun, who will be 32 once the season is underway, and Li Jianbin from Shanghai Shenxin and Guangzhou Evergrande, respectively. Li had already spent 2013 on loan at Shenhua where he improved throughout the year before returning to Guangzhou for the beginning of the 2014 season. After failing to establish himself, he was loaned out to relegation strugglers Henan Jianye in the second half of the season where he looked impressive in the seven appearances he made.
Attacking midfielder Wang was plucked away from city rivals Shenxin in a move which will inevitably have a detrimental effect on his former club. He bagged seven goals for Shenxin – a team that managed a league low of just 26 goals from 30 games. Along with Zhang Lu at Henan Jianye, he was the only Chinese player to finish as his side’s top goal scorer in the 2014 Super League season and will greatly strengthen Shenhua’s attacking options in 2015.
Shenhua on Monday announced their third domestic signing of the season – veteran winger Lv Zheng from Shandong Luneng. The 29-year-old spent 10 years at the Jinan side and according to the Shanghai media Shenhua beat off competition from rivals Beijing and Shanghai SIPG to secure the signature of this kuai ma (fast horse).
There is no doubt that Shenxin will find it very hard to replace Wang but, if you believe the official media coming out of the club, it appears as though they already have in the shape of Chi Zhongguo who was signed from relegated League One side Yanbian Quanyang Spring. Seen as a like for like replacement for Wang, the 25-year-old ethnic Korean has been the subject of overtures from the Super League before, but finally made the jump this season rather than suffer in the purgatory of League Two. It remains to be seen how quickly he can adjust to the life at a higher level.
The remainder of the transfer news coming form the beginning of December concerns the release of players, and there is no more suitable place to start than Hangzhou Greentown where next year’s side will have a very different look under new Manager Phillipe Troussier. One change that will take some getting used to for the Hangzhou faithful will be the departure of Wang Song who has been somewhat of an icon during his five years in Zhejiang. Unable to reach a deal on a new contract, the 31-year-old creative midfielder will be searching for pastures new in 2015 and, although he can be languid at times, his range of passing, poise and experience will make him a welcome addition to a number of mid-table or bottom-half Super League sides.
Following Wang out the door is a quartet of foreign players, including sixteen-goal superstar Anselmo Ramon. The Brazilian will return to Cruzeiro now that his loan spell is up and will not be back at the Yellow Dragon Stadium in 2015. His goals kept a young Hangzhou team up last season and it is imperative they find an equally prolific replacement. Aside from Ramon, Gilberto Macena, Luka Zinko and Son Dae-Ho are all set to depart. Another Brazilian attacker, Macena failed to catch fire in Hangzhou following two years with Shandong Luneng. Meanwhile, Zinka and Son both performed competently if not spectacularly in 2014. Each of them had the diversity to play in either the centre of midfield or in the backline and the Slovenian was far more successful than the Korean who was regularly kept out of the side by young, Chinese talent. While Wang and Ramon’s departures will be particularly hard to accept for Greentown supporters, they will at least be relieved to hear that dangerous Ivorian Davy Claude Angan is comitted to another season at the club.
Changchun Yatai are also in the process of overhauling their side for 2015 and have announced that Walter Iglesias and Fatos Beqiraj will follow Manager Dragan Okuka and Enihno out of Jilin. The changes are part of Changchun’s plans to switch to a “defensive, counterattacking style” which is great news for fans of low scoring encounters where teams play with eleven men behind the ball. Argentine Iglesias and Montenegrin Beqiraj have both been deemed unsuitable for this new approach and the latter’s seven strikes last season, added to the already departed Eninho’s nine, mean that Changchun, who only managed 33 goals in 2014’s Super League, are either going to have to recruit well in the summer to keep their tally respectable, or hope that their new approach means they can follow Shanghai Shenxin’s example and stay up by scoring less than a goal a game.
That task may be made harder by the departure of 32-year-old Wang Wanpeng who started 27 league games at the heart of Yatai’s defence last year in what was his fourteenth season in with the team. The Dalian native announced his departure on social media without alluding to whether he would retire or start next year with a team outside of Changchun for the first time in his career.
Shanghai SIPG are another side making big changes, but these are unlikely to involve shifting to a defensive counterattacking style, as Sven Goran-Erikson begins clearing space before making significant investment in new players. It is all but confirmed that centre back pairing Ransford Addo and Iban Cuadrado will not return next season. The pair have been at the Shanghai Stadium for a total of five years between them and Addo, in particular, is popular with fans. But while both are competent performers in the Super League, SIPG’s leaky defence contributed to their failure to ensure Champion’s League football, and will need upgrading if they are going to take the next step under Sven.
Someone who certainly won’t be with SIPG next season is veteran Australian forward Daniel McBreen who ought to have put several Super League sides on alert by stating that he wants to sign for a new team in the Middle Kingdom for 2015. The 37-year-old former A-League golden boot winner’s output in front have goal may have declined in 2014 but, from a deeper role, he was still heavily involved in what was, for a time, a free scoring Shanghai attack. Like Wang Song, there should be plenty of non-elite teams interested in recruiting him for 2015.
Henan Jianye’s foreign duo of Ryan Johnson and Nando Rafael will also be free agents when their contracts expire at the end of the year. Newly promoted Henan, who stayed up following a battling last day display in Beijing, got little help from their foreign attackers last season, and will be hoping to find some better options for 2015 in order to make things a little less tense. Jamaican, Johnson, who was apparently a centre forward, managed just three goals in twenty-seven appearances, while German-Angolan midfielder Rafael, who joined Jianye at the tail end of their promotion in 2013, failed to establish himself in the Super League and only managed thirteen starts all season.
Tianjin TEDA’s Lebanese centre back Mohammad Ali Khan also struggled this season and the Swedish born player has told Scandinavian media that he has no interest in returning to China. Failing to settle, the 26-year-old made fourteen starts over the year but couldn’t unseat the central defensive paring of Eder Lima and aging war horse Li Wiefeng on a long term basis.
Super League new boys Shijiazhuang Yongchang have been very quiet on the transfer front since their dramatic promotion in November, but it seems as though five players who were involved in last season’s success story will not be present when Hebei hosts its first ever Super League game in March. For a combination of disciplinary and squad downsizing reasons, Yu Liang, Tian Riliang, Sun Xiaolin, Zhang Hao and Yin Liangyi will all be playing there football elsewhere in 2015.
Down in Shijiazhuang’s old League One stomping ground, there have been no signings to speak of, but a fair few releases have taken place. Wuhan Zall have led the way by letting go of three of last season’s players who, to some degree or other, failed to live up to expectations last year. There is little surprise that the blundering, 3-goal Brazilian forward Tassio has been moved on, but 11-goal top scorer Sergio Leal has also been let go and, while the Uruguayan didn’t always shine brightly, he will be much trickier to replace than his fellow South American. Midfielder Sang Yifei, who fell out of favour in the second half of the season, will also not be coming back to the Xinhua Road Stadium next season, but the good news for Wuhan fans is that Senegalese centre back Jacques Faty seems to be committed to another year at the club.
Big changes are also afoot at Qingdao Hainiu where foreign players Yves Ekwalla Herman, Kelly Youga and Vladimir Vosboinikov have all been let go. The club, which slumped badly in the second half of last season, acknowledged that the former two had performed well in 2014, but stated their intention of scouring the European leagues for even better replacements in 2015.
Guangdong Xian Sunray Cave
League One’s biggest transformation of all concerns Guangdong Sunray Cave who will up sticks and move to Xi’an for the 2015 season. However, it has been confirmed that their foreign trio of Mahama Awal, Carlos Andres Garcia and Danilo Peinado will not be travelling north with them.
Bosnian Ivan Bozic will not be there to share in Beijing Baxy’s financial windfall as the former Guizhou Zhicheng and Yanbian Quanyang Spring forward has been let go by the club.
Korean midfielder Choi Hyun-Yeon has left relegated Harbin Yiteng for Kuala Lumpar FA, but it is unlikely that anyone in Heilongjiang will notice as he only made two appearances for the Ice City club after signing in the summer of 2014.
Serbian Jovan Damjanovic (no relation to Beijing Guo’an’s far more talented Dejan) who played for Hunan Billows in 2014 will not be back in Changsha next season. The 32-year-old did manage eight league goals last year, but three of them were penalties and Hunan are now on the look out for a more prolific forward.
Finally, Tianjin Songjiang are set to bid farewell to ten goal striker Nei. His output was reasonable for a mid-table League One club, but because of the 34-year-old Brazilian’s advancing age and susceptibility to injury, the northerners have decided to look elsewhere for a foreign forward.