With so many of China’s top clubs now employing big name foreign managers. It’s easy to overlook the country’s own wealth of managerial talent. Here we take a careful look at the best Chinese coaches in the game today.
5. Duan Xin (Heilongjiang Lava Spring)
Following his retirement from playing, Duan spent most of his early post-playing career coaching youth football in his native Shenyang.
While his first foray into professional management came with Shenyang Jinde, Duan is best known for his time with Harbin Yiteng. During his four years in charge of Yiteng, Duan had the team playing a brand of fast attacking football that in 2013 won them promotion to the CSL.
While at Yiteng, Duan developed a reputation as an innovator who was keen to modernise the way in which Chinese teams operated. Over the course of Duan’s career he has consistently been a big proponent of a more professional approach to training, nutrition, fitness and match preparation.
In 2016 Duan found himself back in Harbin, as he returned to management with Heilongjiang Lava Spring. At Lava Spring he once again focused on instilling into his players a sense of professionalism and discipline. Duan’s first season with Heilongjiang proved to be a huge success with the team winning the League Two play-offs and securing promotion to League One.
Despite Heilongjiang Lava Spring not being the most moneyed of League One teams, Duan has ensured the team’s smooth transition into the league by making some excellent signings with the limited resources available to him. Duan has frequently utilised his extensive network of contacts within Chinese football to bring in the personnel necessary to make Heilongjiang competitive at the League One level.
Given the limited resources at his disposal, the speed with which Duan has turned Heilongjiang from a League Two also ran, into a solid League One side has been very impressive. Lava Spring currently have one of the youngest squads in League One and it will be interesting to see exactly how far exactly Duan can take them.
4. Gao Hongbo (Beijing Sport University)
Given that Gao Hongbo was the last Chinese manager to either win a major domestic trophy or manage the national team, it is perhaps a little surprising that he only comes in at number four on the list.
Gao spent most of his playing days at Beijing Guoan, in a storied career which spanned both the amateur and professional eras of Chinese football. His time as a manager has been even more eventful, managing seven different clubs and having two spells in charge of the national team.
Gao was never able to achieve any substantial success with the national team. But he has had some significant success at club level, most notably at Changchun Yatai with whom he won the 2007 Super League with.
For the past two and half years Gao has been managing Beijing Sport University in League One. When Gao took over in 2017, BSU were on bad run of form and bottom of the table. Gao immediately made significant changes to team selection and tactics and quickly turned the situation around. By the end of the year Gao had guided BSU out of the drop zone and safely into mid-table. More recently Gao’s BSU side have played some good football and had some big wins. But have not played with the consistency needed to challenge for promotion.
What the future holds for Gao is unclear. While he is currently toiling in the relative obscurity of League One, he is still arguably the most successful Chinese coach of his generation. And it may only be a matter of time before he receives an offer to return to management in the top flight.
3. Wang Baoshan (Henan Jianye)
Henan Jianye’s boss Wang Baoshan comes in at number three. Over the past twenty-five years Wang has taken the reins at nine different Chinese clubs with varying degrees of success. Recently Wang has been enjoying a very successful time at Henan, after taking charge of them in the later part of the 2018 season.
Since their return to the top-flight in 2014, Henan have generally been one of the Super League’s weaker teams and have frequently found themselves fighting to avoid relegation. When Wang took over, Henan were in the thick of one these relegation battles, with the team winless in seven matches and three points from safety. Wang then masterminded five wins from Henan’s remaining seven matches and ensured their CSL survival with a game to spare.
In the off-season Wang made some excellent signings with the limited funds available to him. This coupled with some solid man management of existing players, has made Henan a much more balanced and cohesive team than they have been in previous years. Henan have spent entirety of this season around the middle of the table and for the first time in a number of years have managed to steer well clear of the relegation dogfight.
Wang’s ability to quickly transform Henan from relegation fodder to a solid mid-table side has been an achievement which has largely gone under the radar, but still cements his place as one of the top Chinese coaches in the game today.
2. Li Xiaopeng (Shandong Luneng)
Shandong native Li Xiaopeng spent his entire playing career playing in his home province with Shandong Luneng and was a regular in the national team in the early to mid two-thousands.
After retiring, Li studied for his coaching qualifications and eventually took on his first job as manager of the women’s national team. This ultimately ended in disappointment when the team failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. A few years later Li had a brief stint managing Qingdao Joonon in League One, however a poor start to the 2014 season saw him and the club part ways.
After these disappointing initial attempts at management many thought it unlikely that Li would manage again. In 2015 he rejoined his old club Luneng as an assistant manager. Li would go on to fulfill a number of different roles at the club before taking over as manager for the 2018 season. In his first season in charge, Li’s Shandong side finished third in the league. This was significant improvement from the previous two years and Li himself scooped up the CSL Manager of the Season award.
This year Li’s Shandong team have continued to impress. Li has made extensive use of squad rotation over the course of the campaign and Shandong have performed well in all three competitions. With Luneng now through the CFA Cup final. Li has a very real chance to be the first Chinese manager in over decade to win a major trophy.
1. Li Tie (Wuhan Zall)
Prior to going into management, Li Tie had a footballing education that is arguably unmatched by any of his contemporaries. Li spent his teenage years taking part in a player development programme in Brazil. Before embarking on a playing career that saw him play in England’s Premier League and represent the national team at the 2002 World Cup. After he finished playing Li was able to learn from one of the best managers in the game when he worked as an assistant to Marcello Lippi at Guangzhou Evergrande.
Li’s first management role began in the final stretch of 2015 League One season. Hebei China Fortune’s promotion push had begun to flounder and Li stepped up from the assistant manager role and turned Hebei’s season around. Under Li’s management the team went on to win eight of their nine remaining games and secured promotion with a second-place finish.
Hebei’s first year in the top flight started off better than anyone could have hoped for, with the team flying high in the league in the first half of the season. However as the season wore on Hebei began to stall and a disappointing run of results saw Li sacked before the season was out. While many were surprised with the sacking of Li given the amount success he had had at the club, his success didn’t go unnoticed.
After a spell working with the national team, Li was offered the manger’s job at the ambitious Wuhan Zall. At Wuhan, Li has set about establishing himself as the best Chinese manager in the game today. Li took charge of Wuhan ahead of the 2018 season and was able to quickly transform the culture at the club, sweeping away the malaise that festered amongst the squad in previous years. Li quickly turned Zall into a hardworking disciplined unit, capable of grinding out results on a consistent basis as they cruised to the League One title.
Despite not making too many big signings this off-season, Li’s Wuhan team have adapted quickly to life in the CSL. Li has consistently been able to motivate and keep in-line the players he has at his disposal. Over the course of the year his team have held their own in the top-half of the table and pulled of some impressive wins.
It will be interesting to see how far Li can take his Wuhan team in the future. But perhaps more interesting is the question of where Li’s career will take him in the future. He has spoken in the past about his desire to manage the national team. And if his career continues to follow its current trajectory there seems to be no reason why Li may not one day find himself at the helm of Team Dragon.
- Supporting the worst team in the league? An account of how it happened… on
- CSL travelogue: Take a look at Guiyang before they’re gone on
- Coleman to Hebei and How China Gets into the World Cup Swing: The Chinese Football Podcast on
- Kitchee Defeat Tai Po Again to Win FA Cup and Clinch Domestic Treble on
- The Greatest Foreign Players in CSL History (But Not Iniesta): The Chinese Football Podcast on