Unity the key for Guangzhou dominance, says captain Zheng
Guangzhou Evergrande's enduring dominance of the Chinese Super League is based on the unity of their experienced squad, captain Zheng Zhi said after his team notched up a seventh straight title.
Guangzhou's 5-1 victory over Guizhou Zhicheng on Sunday earned Luiz Felipe Scolari's side the title ahead of Shanghai SIPG with two games remaining as Evergrande maintained its superiority despite the heavy spending by many of its rivals.
"I am so proud of all of us that we won this seventh title," said Zheng, who watched Sunday's game from the stands due to injury.
"It is unbelievable that a team can win the trophy seven times in a row, we should be proud."
Guangzhou was expected to be pushed hard this season after SIPG spent heavily on Brazilian trio Hulk, Elkeson and Oscar, who joined from Chelsea for an Asian-record transfer fee of 60 million euros (US$70.46 million).
But Scolari's team claimed the title despite losing influential former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Paulinho midway through the season when he joined Barcelona.
"None of the seven titles was easy, none," said Zheng. "Every season we had our difficulties.
"However, we always fought as one, with solidarity, and this is our strength.
"This season people have been talking about how much other clubs invested and that they would be threatening Evergrande, but our target is simple: be ourselves.
"We are the strongest of all and we have one unified mentality."
Scolari was banned from the bench on Sunday after he was hit with a suspension for his conduct in a previous match.
But, wearing a red Evergrande T-shirt, he took to the Tianhe Stadium pitch afterwards and was mobbed by his players and team officials, who hoisted him skywards.
"All fans supporting Evergrande should thank him for winning seven titles in two-and-a-half years," the Oriental Sports Daily quoted assistant coach Paulo Turra as saying.
However, Guangzhou is set to undergo at least one major change ahead of next season, with Scolari stepping down when his contract expires at the end of November.
Chinese media reported that Italian Carlo Ancelotti will replace the Brazilian at the helm, with an announcement due at the end of the season. German Thomas Tuchel, most recently with Borussia Dortmund, is also apparently in the frame.
Whoever replaces the World Cup winner will have to deal with an aging squad that has struggled at times on both the domestic and continental stage.
Evergrande was eliminated from this year's AFC Champions League _ a tournament it won under Scolari and now China coach Marcello Lippi _ at the quarterfinal stage by SIPG, which will once again present a serious challenge to its dominance at home and abroad next season.
Zheng, who turned 37 in August, has been the heartbeat of Guangzhou since joining the club from Celtic in 2010 when it was in the second division, and the China captain has been a key part of its success.
"For me, I am also enjoying this moment and I want continue as long as possible," he said.
"I love this sport and hope to continue playing. But I also have respect for the game and I hope to maintain my physical condition."