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The Vìtor Pereira era begins at SIPG: who is this guy?

Your WEF home for all things SIPG. A look at the history of the new manager towards helping to figure out what he’ll mean for the Red Eagles in 2018.

All of this has happened before and will happen again

As André Villas-Boas guns his motors somewhere beyond the horizon, SIPG has reacted to an AVB departure exactly the same way FC Porto did in 2012: they’ve hired Portuguese national Vítor Pereira to manage the team.

It’s fair to say that the reaction of the SIPG faithful has been more along the lines of “Who?” rather than “Hosannah!”, but Pereira’s got a track record that is quite interesting in the context of SIPG.

Like AVB, Pereira is young in Manager Years (49), but the former AVB assistant has already coached at Santa Clara, FC Porto, Al Ahli, Olympiacos, Fenerbahçe and 1860 Munich. The first four went well; the last two were less than stellar.

At Santa Clara, way out in the Azores, Pereira twice guided a small, remote club into finishes near the top of the second division in Portuguese football. He caught AVB’s eye and was hired away in 2010 to assist the maestro at Porto.

Despite only one year on staff at Porto, club management turned to Pereira when AVB departed for Chelsea, and Pereira pounced on the unexpected opportunity. He won back-to-back Premeira League championships. Of particular note, the best player on his roster was Hulk, and in his second year, Pereira orchestrated a dramatically improved Porto defense. The squad allowed only 14 goals in 30 matches in league play.

Moving into Asian football in 2013 with Al Ahli in the Saudi league, Pereira took a side that finished a distant fifth the year before and tightened up their defense, guided them to third place, won ACL qualification, and got to the final of the King’s Cup.

Back in Europe (sort of) in 2015, he was a mid-season hire for Olympiacos. The Greek giant had been underachieving, but that stopped when Pereira took over. Olympiacos won seven straight matches, rocketed into first place and never looked back. He got a double when he guided them to a Greek Cup win, too.

And again, Pereira noticeably tightened the team’s defense: pre-Pereira, Olympiacos was allowing .69 goals/match; with Pereira, that number dropped to .28.

Pereira’s career turns to the dark side

In 2015, Pereira was offered the job that probably did more to prepare him for the CSL than any other: a two-year contract with Fenerbahçe in the Turkish Super League.

Things started amicably enough: in the first year, Pereira guided the team to a second-place finish. Yet again, the defense got better and again he qualified for the Champion’s League.

In the summer of 2016, though, things fell apart with astonishing speed. The aging Dutch international and team star, Robin Van Persie, criticized Pereira publicly. Pereira might have survived that, but he couldn’t survive what came at the start of the season: a UEFA Champion’s League playoff loss to Shakhtar Donetsk.

If you’re a Chinese football fan, see if this sounds familiar: the Board of Directors demanded a personal explanation from Pereira for a tactical change before Fenerbaçhe’s 3-0 spanking at the Arena Lviv, and when Pereira declined, then departed Turkey fearing for his safety, the board fired him, tried to weasel out of paying his contract, and issued a Sphinx-like explanation: “As of today, our contract with Vítor Pereira was unilaterally canceled based on a foreseen necessity by our executive board.”

The CFA is absolutely red with envy.

German 2nd Bundesliga side 1860 Munich, flailing towards relegation, grabbed Pereira as a life preserver halfway through their 2016-17 season, but he had a negligible impact. The team lost a relegation playoff, couldn’t meet it’s financial obligation for the 3rd Bundesliga and was double-relegated to a regional league. Understandably, Pereira left.

A new hope

Despite a much lower profile than SIPG’s last hire, Pereira has a lot of subtle advantages as a manager, and his hire speaks well for the SIPG board’s sharp focus on football matters rather than the murkiness that marks so much of Chinese club management.

He’s a Portuguese speaker (will he be the man who unlocks Oscar?), he has a history with Hulk, who is by far the most important player on the SIPG roster, he’s shown independence with both tactics and roster selection, and perhaps most germane to SIPG, everywhere he goes, his teams gets better in the back. It’s worth noting here that SIPG shouldn’t fear that the high-flying Red Eagles will become cynical, earth-bound defenders: Pereira’s defensive improvements at Porto, Al Ahli, Olympiakos and Fenerbahçe did not come with fall-offs in goal production.

He will face considerable challenges: the SIPG backline foursome of Fu, He, Wang and Shi wasn’t very good in 2017 and there are no obvious challengers to any of them for playing time.

The new, new backhanded CFA attempt to drive foreigners from the league will mean that Pereira will have to find minutes for three U23 players every time he wants to run Hulk, Oscar and Ahmedov out there together. He needs all three foreigners to produce if SIPG hopes to overtake Evergrande in the CSL. Especially Ahmedov. The Uzbeki midfielder had the season of his life in 2017. He’s going to need to repeat that for SIPG to be successful. As the Oscar suspension proved, SIPG has no mid-field depth. The new manager is also going to have to decide what to do with Elkeson, still one of the top strikers in the CSL.

Pereira, along with the new managers at Evergrande and Quanjian and the careerist bureaucrat at Shenhua, will have to manage a 2018 fixture freakshow which will include a lot of early ACL matches (assuming an SIPG playoff victory in the ACL), a CSL schedule with more mid-week matches than ever before and a very long, momentum-snapping, mid-summer CSL break for the World Cup.

There is the adjustment to life in China, too. Some foreigners can handle it, some can’t, and that includes football managers. In particular, there’s the adjustment to the CFA and the unusual ways it conducts business. To his credit and/or detriment, that’s something that AVB never managed.

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

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