The disappointment of Guangzhou FC’s 2020 season finale has passed, and their senses have been sharpened for the first league matches.
Many rumours had followed the team and the coach himself after the turn of the year, but one thing has not changed: Fabio Cannavaro remains head coach and is now in his fourth season with Guangzhou FC.
The hardships at the end of the 2020 season, when the team had to follow various quarantine regulations and, after their return from Doha, were finally allowed to go on a late vacation, are forgotten. All inconsistencies with the club management have been resolved.
It is now a matter of waking up the static state and bringing the team back to the competition.
Cannavaro changed his training plans according to his own statement and had to repeatedly manage the balancing act of bringing in injured players and installing called-up Chinese internationals.
After the failure of Team Dragon under Marcello Lippi, the naturalized players around Ai Kesen (Elkeson), A Lan (Alan), Luo Guofu (Aloísio), Fei Nanduo (Fernandinho) and Jiang Guangtai (Tyias Browning) seem to be the last hopes for short-term success.
The team itself is now being reorganised for the first time, after years of continuity; partly forced by the pandemic, partly wanted. Eventually, Guangzhou will start the season with an All-Chinese squad, which was targeted years ago, as Paulinho and Talisca are still not allowed to enter the country due to strict regulations.
The big stars are now called Ai Kesen, Jiang Guangtai, A Lan, Gao Late (Goulart) or Luo Guofu, all of them naturalized, although only the first two are registered as local players.
The loss of the two most dangerous players in the team in recent years seems to have had a significant impact on the team. Tactically, it will be exciting to see what solutions Cannavaro finds for his preferred 4-3-3.
The power of Paulinho, who is aggressively blossoming under him and is arguably the best remaining player in the league, seems eminently difficult. The sluggish and sometimes listless-looking Talisca, who often underperformed out of place on the right wing, seems to be manageable considering what returnees A Lan and Gao Late had often given the team in the past.
The team could not be strengthened during the off-season, with no new external arrivals for the second season in a row. The largest problem area, at left back, could not be addressed again. Demands on the crown of Asia, the rejuvenation of the team and the further improvement of their own structure represent huge challenges.
Cannavaro brought in 11 new players from their own youth team, and from the often-mentioned Guangzhou football school, knowing well that none of these players currently have CSL abilities.
The most promising younger players are still Yang Liyu and Yan Dinghao, who are both approaching their mid-twenties. Decide for yourself whether these players are still considered talents at their age.
The 21-year-old Wu Shaocong showed positive improvements as a left back, so it will be exciting to see whether Cannavaro continues to rely on Gao Zhunyi, an actual centre back, again after the recovery of Gao Zhunyi, or whether Wu Shaocong has the potential to replace the permanently injured Li Xuepeng in the long-run. Due to the league’s Under-23 rule, Wu Shaocong could play a special role.
Cannavaro himself referred to the increasingly improved opponents from Shanghai and Beijing at the press conference and the first public training session on the new training ground in Panyu.
His hardest season is imminent. He compared the situation around Talisca and Paulinho with the exemplary lack of Ronaldo or Messi for their respective clubs. In addition, Cannavaro spoke about the relatively difficult starts against Guanzhou City, Shandong and Shenzhen.
In terms of squad planning in recent years, the aim was clearer than ever before. A Lan’s loan to Beijing wasn’t his decision. The decision to loan Gao Late to Hebei after a long and serious injury was right in his eyes.
Playing all games showed that he could continue to perform at a high level. However, he didn’t mention that the favoured Luo Guofu played almost no role and that the, in his eyes, ‘most professional player he saw’ could have been useful in the CSL title fight.
It will be exciting to see how Cannavaro will incorporate the new/old returnees in order to get his, at least on paper, exclusively Chinese squad rolling. As the saying goes: ‘The glory belongs to Guangzhou!’
Guangzhou Football Club has to prove it again this season.
Expected line-up vs Shandong (4-3-3): Liu Dianzuo / Deng Hanwen, Zhang Linpeng, Jiang Guangtai, Gao Zhunyi / Liao Lisheng, Zheng Zhi, Yan Dinghao (U23) / Yang Liyu, A Lan, Wei Shihao
Note: Ai Kesen is fit after a short injury; Fei Nanduo, Zhang Xiuwei, Luo Guofu and Li Xuepeng are absent.
This piece was written by Philipp, also known as Filippo Giudice, and published in partnership with Wild East Football. Follow Philipp on Twitter for more insights into Guangzhou FC.