Counterproductive administration leaves home setup facing final whistle
Guangzhou FC was once the biggest name, with the most lavish lineup, in the Chinese Super League, but even survival became a problem for the financially stricken giant after relegation from the top-tier league. The downfall of the eight-time CSL winner is just the latest example of domestic soccer's current woes.
After a 4-1 defeat to Changchun Yatai on Tuesday, Guangzhou FC, which was formerly known as Guangzhou Evergrande, failed to avoid the drop from the CSL one round before the end of the 2022 season. The club won only three matches, earning just 17 points so far. Hebei FC and Wuhan Yangtze River are the other relegated clubs. All three are facing financial difficulties.
The relegation of Guangzhou FC was foreseeable, yet the news still dominated social media. Hashtag "Guangzhou FC relegated" was viewed more than 5 million times just an hour after the club's match, with most expressing their disappointment, not just in the club, but the game's status quo.
"The fans have been expecting the relegation of Guangzhou FC. So what the fans actually care about now are the three following questions. First, whether Evergrande Group will continue to invest in professional soccer? " read a commentary by Soccer News.
"Or in other words, whether the team will try hard to play in the second-tier league or chose to disband? Second, whether veteran Zheng Zhi will still be their coach? And thirdly, whether the team's core players, such as Wei Shihao, will still be with the club?"
Guangzhou FC was once one of the most high-profile CSL clubs, as the expensive squad had foreign big names such as ex-Barcelona midfielder Paulinho of Brazil. The club's former managers included Italian World Cup winners Marcello Lippi and Fabio Cannavaro. It also had the largest number of naturalized players in the league, such as Brazilian natives Alan and Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson).
"In February 2022, Guangzhou FC announced the ending of contracts with five of its naturalized players. Alan, Ai Kesen, Gao Late (aka Ricardo Goulart), Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio) and Fei Nanduo (aka Fernandinho) were all beneficiaries of the big-spending era of Chinese soccer, but they eventually chose to leave," read a commentary by NetEase Sport.
"Ai Kesen said he would always be a Chinese, and Gao Late said he was grateful to China. So everyone knows the wage problem was the true reason why they decided to leave."
The club's troubles originated from the financial struggles of its owner, property giant Evergrande Group, which was unable to keep investing in the team. That resulted in the exodus of the club's foreign players, coaches and naturalized stars.
Since then, the team's veteran Zheng became a pillar for the club during difficult times, as he undertook the dual role of player-coach after the resignation of Cannavaro. The former Team China captain made sure Guangzhou FC finished third in CSL last season.
As Zheng's contract with the club expired at the end of last year, he started a new career as a teacher at Guangzhou Sport University. He still was unable to turn his back on the club, as the 42-year-old returned with a coaching team and was reappointed as head coach in August. However, without sufficient financial support and competitive players, Zheng alone was simply far from enough to save Guangzhou FC from the drop.
Apart from relegation, Guangzhou FC's future was clouded by another incident earlier this month. The club's former chairman Wang Yajun, who was also the dean of Evergrande Football School, was involved in a match-fixing case involving a youth soccer match at Guangdong's provincial games in August.
Wang, along with several other staff of the school, was banned for life by the CFA, and was then fired by the Evergrande Group. Although the case was not directly linked to the club's first-tier team, such incidents still damaged the club's public image.
"Eight CSL titles and two AFC Champions League titles were all the best memories that Guangzhou FC brought to us. Fans are hoping Guangzhou FC can survive and keep playing in the second-tier league next season, so that there are still hopes left," said soccer commentator Li Xuan.
In a sharp contrast to CSL's big spending days, a number of top-tier clubs are facing financial problems. In late December, the CFA asked all professional clubs to "solve their wage problems before Dec 31". The clubs that failed to do so will be relegated or disqualified according to the CFA.
That was the third warning by the CFA this season to solve wage problems. The first was on July 31, when all clubs were requested to solve 30 percent of their wage problems. Two CSL and one third-tier club were deducted three points for failing to do so.
The second was on Oct 31, when clubs were asked to solve 70 percent of their wage problems. A total of eight clubs failed to comply and were handed a six-point penalty. That's why relegated Hebei FC, which won only two matches this season but were penalized for wages, has a minus three points.
The CSL has been suffering financial problems for several seasons. Before the 2021 season kicked off, six clubs, including 2020 CSL champion Jiangsu FC, had been disqualified from the professional leagues due to financial difficulties.