It’s now official: Fabio Cannavaro is (again) the new Head Coach for Guangzhou Evergrande, who recently won an incredible seventh consecutive title.
Outgoing Evergrande boss, Luis Felipe Scolari, who was under harsh criticism for just riding Lippi’s legacy was rumoured to be joining second-division side Wuhan Zall before Li Tie was revealed as the taker of that vacancy and Big Phil’s immediate successor is also his immediate predecessor and the 2006 World Cup winners’ captain is at the helm of Tianhe Stadium again.
But much has changed since last time Cannavaro leading the top team in Canton. In 2014 the Italian was a newbie manager with just a brief apprenticeship at Al-Ahli in Dubai in the way of experience. Now he has successfully brought Tianjin Quanjian into the Asian Champions League in a brutal struggle for the top three spots in the League, outclassing coaches with long established reputations in Europe such as Manuel Pellegrini and Felix Magath. Guangzhou Evergrande has added another couple of trophies, including a second ACL win, into their silverware cabinet. But the most important change will be the humiliating sacking of Liu Yongzhuo, the once seemingly omnipotent and omniscient vice-president of Evergrande group and president of the club, over the fantastic waste of money on Jackson Martinez, and a failure to keep Paulinho. It would also appear that the failure to lure Anchelloti was the last straw.
This means Cannavaro will work with the even younger Shi Junping, who is a mere 35 years old and has also took over at Evergrande’s football academy. The first act of the Shi-Cannavaro combo might be to decide the future of Zhang Linpeng as the right-back is rumoured to be going to Beijing Guo’an or back to Shanghai SIPG for 200 million RMB. But Cannavaro will want to avoid the difficult start he endured at Evergrande first time around when points were dropped against newly-promoted teams and a far from impressive ACL group campaign.
The Italian might well blame the underperformance during his reign on many injuries, particularly among the foreign players as Cannavaro had to play his last match with an all-Chinese line-up. The home game against Tianjin Teda ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw and tears from the youngsters he promoted to the senior squad. Young players might exactly what Cannavaro have to rely on after the new, five-year contract was inked. Xu Jiayin, Evergrande’s chairman and a delegate to the country’s top advisory body the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, insisted the team should play with an all-Chinese squad in 2020 as he expressed ‘full confidence’ in the new Head Coach during Cannavaro’s welcome press conference.
That might well make the sound of a clock ticking even louder in Cannavaro’s ears. He chose to go back to Evergrande for the obvious reason that it is a team that can deliver quick short-term results that might earn him a commanding position inside the dressing room in a top European team. With both Milan clubs under Chinese ownership, an ACL win might just give him the keys to San Siro. Staying in Tianjin to become a local ‘legend’, as Fox Sports’s John Duerden recently suggested, is simply not going to cut it for the man who captained Italy to win the most coveted prize in football.