With less than a month until kickoff, we take a look at the 2015 Changchun Yatai team and the potential of the season ahead.
Gao Jinggang steps into his first ever full-time managerial position with Changchun, having spent the last few seasons working as the team’s General Manager. He took over the team twice as interim manager and compiled a 100% record in that time, with three wins out of three games he oversaw.
His inexperience could be an advantage, with the potential to inject new life into a Changchun team that has decreased in quality since 2009. It could also be his downfall, with him now having immediate control over signings, interactions with the media as well as players, Gao will be watched closely as the season moves along.
The team was established in 1996 and doesn’t have too much history behind them. They won two trophies since being established, with a Jia B League, now China League One, title in 2003 along with two runner-up positions in 2001 and 2005 and a Chinese Super League title in 2007, as well as one runner-up position in 2009.
2007-2009 was clearly the most productive time for the North-East side, who will be looking to bounce back from the last two seasons that saw them finish 14th and 13th in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Changchun finished the 2014 season in 13th place, which was extremely disappointing for the team who looked like they could achieve at least 9th position heading into September. A string of losses and draws lead to the team dropping quickly down the league table.
The last two games of the season saw them face off against Tianjin and Hangzhou, who were both sitting below Changchun in the table, but a loss and a draw saw that both teams overtook Changchun and eventually lead to the dismissal of manager Dragan Okuka after the season.
Much has changed about the team and the 2015 season will hopefully showcase something new for Changchun fans.
With new manager Gao Jinggang on board, Changchun released 22 senior players and have worked to build their own team looking to youngsters in Changchun’s ranks along with high quality foreign imports, two consistent players for Harbin Yiteng last season and the return of fan favourite Du Zhenyu.
The changes made to Changchun look promising so far and could help the team begin to push their way back up the CSL table.
The key foreign returnee for Changchun this season is former Hungarian international Szabolcs Huszti, who sparked Changchun’s 5+ game winning streak in the summer before defensive woes began to hamper the team’s progress.
Uzbekistan international and long-serving Changchun player Anzur Ismailov returns to the team and will remain the team’s heart in central defense. The departure of fan-favourite Eninho was disappointing for many, but Gao has set about replacing last season’s top scorer with two promising strikers.
Moussa Maazou, a Niger international, joins the team after spending time playing in Portugal and France. Maazou scored 9 goals in 18 games for Maritimo last season and could look to score a number higher than that in the CSL while likely being partnered next to Hernan Barcos, the 2009 CSL co-Golden Boot winner.
Barcos will no doubt be Changchun’s preferred striker but if the team decide to play with two up front, which fans will definitely be hoping for, Barcos and Maazou could link up well and could threaten many team’s goals week-in, week-out.
Akos Elek, another Hungarian international, rounds out the team’s foreign signings this season and will look to partner up with fellow countryman Huszti to provide some stability in midfield. This season’s foreign players already look more promising than last seasons and should help the team truly compete this season.
Easily has to be Szabolcs Huszti. His never-say-die attitude and his ability as a playmaker, goal scorer and all round go-getter will be crucial for Changchun as they look to cope with some of the bigger teams.
His international and European league experience will continue to prove invaluable to the team and with a full offseason to prepare, he will be raring to go this season.
Despite playing around 20 league games a season for Changchun over the last three seasons, Pei Shuai has just turned 22 and will continue to be featured in the team. Originally a central defender, Pei was used as a defensive midfielder at times last season and is still finding his way into the first team.
The China Under 21 star will look to cement his place under Gao Jinggang this season and develop into the centre point of the team for years to come, potentially earning some international interest as the year progresses.
The X Factor
For Changchun to be competitive, they need to have a solid defense complimented by a fast-paced and clinical attack. The foreign imports will be crucial pieces to the team’s attacking style and will be relied on heavily to score goals early and in abundance, helping Changchun to truly claim points from teams they may have lost out to last season.
With new players and a new manager entering the fold, it is hard to truly predict Changchun’s performance in the 2015 season. However, the new foreign signings will give fans hope that the team is beginning to return to their former glory and could see Changchun fight for a Top 8-10 position this season.
Former manager Dragan Okuka was given the task of a Top 8 finish and fizzled out towards the end, dropping the team down to 13th. If Gao can get his team playing consistently at a high level, competing toe-to-toe with other teams, Changchun could once again be a Top 8 team, but it will also depend on execution.
If Barcos and Maazou can score goals early and in abundance, it will give the team a boost and re-ignite the fans’ belief that the team can become a force in Chinese football once again.