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Season Preview: Can Troussier turn Hangzhou Greentown’s youth revolution into a French one?

All change at Hangzhou, as new manager Philippe Troussier takes the helm at the Yellow Dragon Stadium. Can Greentown survive the drop for the 4th consecutive season?

The manager: Nomadic Frenchman Philippe Troussier takes over the reins at Hangzhou this season; the ‘white witch doctor’ bringing a wealth of experience to the club from across Europe, Africa and Asia.  Hailed in Africa for his success with Nigeria, South Africa and Burkina Faso, Troussier then moved onto Asia, winning the AFC Asian Cup with Japan in 2000 and being named AFC Coach of the Year.  On the other hand, his only foray into Chinese football was a turbulent 3 year spell with Shenzhen Ruby. In his first season Shenzhen were relegated and in the subsequent two seasons he was unable to guide the side back to the top flight. In his time at the club he succeeded in alienating fans and players, eventually being placed on gardening leave before his predictable downfall.

The history:  Formed in 1998 as Zhejiang Greentown, Hangzhou have progressed from the 3rd division to the Super League and now enter their ninth consecutive season in the top flight.  The club can proudly point to being one of the few Chinese clubs to occupy one geographical location for their entire history and are Zhejiang province’s only Super League outfit.

The stadium: The Yellow Dragon Stadium (aka Huanglong Stadium 黄龙体育场) is the home of Hangzhou Greentown, Zhejiang’s only CSL side.  This 52,000 seater stadium is dwarfed at either end by two large towers, built in a typical imposing concrete communist manner. On match days the ground is roughly ¼ full and tickets are easy to come by from the touts outside the ground.  It is situated fairly centrally, just to the north of Hangzhou’s West Lake.

The changes: Last season’s manager Yang Ji is out, lasting just one season at the helm in a transitionary season for the club.  Out also go foreigners Gilberto Macena, Luka Zinko and Son Dae-Ho, joining club hero Wang Song and China Olympic captain Shi Ke in the ‘outs’ column. Wang and Shi will be big misses for Greentown, both firmly cementing themselves as fan’s favourites and the duo leave big holes in the side.

In come Africans Boulaabi, Trawally and Louati, along with veteran CSL campaigner Roda Antar and last season’s loan star Anselmo Ramon on a permanent deal.  Domestic signings Ge Zhen, Huang Xiyang and Chen Po-liang will provide depth to a squad thin on experience outside the foreign signings.

The foreigners: Manager Troussier will be pleased with his close season signings, although the signing of 3 foreign strikers suggests the coach wasn’t expecting the permanent signing of Anselmo Ramon.  The Brazilian returned to Cruizero at the end of the season and wasn’t expected back in Hangzhou.  However, Greentown stumped up the $3m required to sign Ramon and he returned to the club last week.  Indeed the club now has one too many foreigners and its likely Gambian forward Bubacarr Trawally will be loaned out.  Troussier raided former club CS Sfaxien for promising forward Imed Louati and experienced defender Bassem Boulaabi; how these two will adapt to the CSL is anybody’s guess.  Former Jiangsu and Shandong midfielder Roda Antar has also joined, and will be expected to provide the creativity in midfield after Wang Song’s departure. Ivorian Davy Claude Angan will start his 3rd season with the side and Greentown fans need no introduction to last season’s player of the season Anselmo Ramon, the Brazilian striker’s goals vitally important throughout the season.

The star: Anselmo Ramon. The Brazilian’s goals last season were absolutely crucial to Greentown’s continued survival in the CSL and his surprising permanent signing caught many of fans off guard.  The fourth top scorer in the league last season, Ramon has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and converting the chances he gets.  Once again his goals will be key to Hangzhou’s season and quest to retain their CSL place.

The youngster: Xie Pengfei.  The young midfielder will be expected to be a big part of the Greentown first XI this season, after breaking into the first team last season. The Guizhou native has represented China’s Under 20s and 22s, scoring 4 times in 9 appearances for the Under 22 side.

The X factor: The Hangzhou Greentown academy.  Last season’s ‘youth revolution’ (青春风暴) saw Greentown promote numerous young players to the first team squad.  Shi Ke & Xie Pengfei went onto become mainstays of China’s U22 side, with Cao Haiqing, Feng Gang, Zhao Yuhao and Zang Yifeng also earning first caps for China’s youth side.  Troussier has been brought in with a view to continuing the youth revolution so the future looks bright for Zhejiang’s young prospects.

Pre-season. Hangzhou’s pre –season so far this season has been impressive, although one can read too much into form in meaningless friendlies.  Nevertheless, 3 wins and a draw in 4 matches against Evergrande, Jiangsu, Shanghai SIPG and Guo’an is a great return.  Indeed, with only 2 goals conceded in those 4 matches, the CSL’s worst defence looks like it has made some improvement under new manager Troussier.

The prediction: It’s unlikely Hangzhou will be challenging the big boys this season, and it looks as though another season of struggle is on the cards.  The last minute permanent signing of last year’s loanee Anselmo Ramon, however, has raised spirits amongst fans and a solid pre-season suggests that Greentown supporters can have some optimism for this campaign.

Youngsters blooded last season will be expected to step up and fill the big gaps left by Shi Ke and Wang Song’s departures. A lot also depends on how Ramon adapts to his second CSL season; his goals in last campaign being so crucial to Hangzhou’s survival.

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