Despite a win in the Jing-jin derby over the weekend, Beijing Guoan is in a state of chaos unseen around the club in the last 10 years, meaning there are plenty reasons for new manager Roger Schmidt to be nervous before he takes over on July 1.
Over the last 10 years, the club has never finished worse than 5th, a result they matched last season only thanks to an end of the year surge up the table after a rough start. While some would say that last season being close to relegation and in disarray when Alberto Zaccheroni was fired in late May was Guoan hitting rock bottom, this year is even worse.
While the position in the standings may not be quite as bad this season, the fact this is the second year in a row that a manager was fired before getting a third of the way through the season is a shock. When Schmidt takes over in a few weeks, he’ll be the fifth manager Guoan has had in the last three seasons. Further, the last few seasons have seen the departures of Zhou Ting and Darko Matic and the retirement of Shao Jiayi and Xu Yunlong, leaving the club with a major gap when it comes to leadership on the pitch.
The problems extend off the pitch as well. The club sold its naming rights to LeTV last season, the first time this has happened since 2005 that had them set to take over a portion of the team as well. However severe financial problems meant that LeTV was rumored to have only paid a tiny portion of the money they were to put up and the contract was ended at the end of the season. Sinobo Group came in during the offseason and bought a controlling stake in the club, so 2017 marks the first time that CITIC hasn’t been the main (and only) shareholder in the club, but new ownership has yet to show a willingness to change things up and spend money.
That has meant the on field resources Schmidt has to work with seriously leaves something to be desired. While the starting XI is decent top to bottom, the bench is very midfield heavy without a lot of options elsewhere, especially in defense. The club has already used up its five domestic transfer spots, so they can’t strengthen a back four where Jin Pengxiang and especially new signing Jiang Tao, who simply isn’t a CSL caliber player, have looked absolutely woeful. With the transfer window opening up, rumors continue that Burak Yılmaz, who has been the club’s main scoring threat and has only recently started fitting in, wants out and may be followed by Renato Augusto as well. If there is one silver lining for Schmidt when it comes to foreigners it’s that he’ll have a familiar face around, while Jonathan Soriano has rarely got a run of play since arriving in Beijing, some of his best years were under the German at Red Bull Salzburg.
One of the biggest issues with the team so far this year is that it seems to be lacking the spirit and heart that players like Xu and Darko always embodied. Only a few players on the current roster have been with the first team for more than five years and for a variety of reasons few are capable or willing to step up into a leadership role. Certainly the managerial merry go round doesn’t help players confidence as changes in the way the side plays and who is involved have been drastic.
If Schmidt is looking for a silver lining, the Tianjin win over the weekend shows that there are guys who have the right spirit, even if they aren’t always the best players who came together to fight through the number of key players who were out for the match. Zhang Xiaobin, a former Tianjin player, stepped up into the leadership gulf and played a very vocal role in guiding the midfield on Sunday. Also, 21 year old Ba Dun was given his CSL debut and put in an excellent performance, assisting on an Augusto goal and creating a number of chances throughout the match.
Of course if Guoan wins tonight’s China derby CFA Cup clash against Shenhua and can book a ticket into the quarterfinals, it would give a glimpse of a path into qualifying for the Asian Champion’s League and be on a mini resurgence for when Schmidt steps in. And if they lose? It’s going to be a tough summer in Beijing.
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