Changchun Yatai this week have announced that club legend and incumbent captain, Zhang Xiaofei, has officially hung up his playing boots and will step into coaching.
The 37-year-old’s decision to step away from playing sees his career end after 17 years with Changchun Yatai, for whom he made 448 league appearances.
A true legend of the club, Zhang Xiaofei retires as one of the very few one-club men still around in the modern game and will remain involved as assistant manager to the club’s reserve team.
He joins a coaching group that also includes former teammate and one-club man Jiang Pengxiang, who stepped away from the game five years ago in order to operate his football school in the city.
Zhang Xiaofei experienced everything in his career, starting with the club in the second tier, ultimately earning promotion to and winning the Chinese Super League.
A long spell in the top tier followed before suffering relegation last year and failing to earn promotion at the first opportunity.
During the club’s best period of play, winning the CSL in 2007, Zhang Xiaofei earned himself seven caps for the Chinese national team.
His importance to the club will never be forgotten by fans, who will undoubtedly be sad to see him step away after what was a strong season – especially after he was originally sidelined to start the year, winning back his regular starting role.
Now the hope will be that he can work on his coaching and one day be involved with the first-team, keeping a true legend of the club involved for as long as possible.
This leaves new manager Samvel Babayan with the unenviable task of replacing the club’s popular captain and starting left-back, needing to ensure the team is ambitious with the signings they make.