Dalian unveils Korean Choi as new head coach

Ma Yue
Chinese Super League club Dalian Yifang announces Choi Kang-hee as its new head coach after the South Korean manager's short stay with troubled Tianjin Tianhai.
Ma Yue
Dalian unveils Korean Choi as new head coach

Dalian Yifang announced Choi Kang-hee as its new head coach after the South Korean manager's short stay with troubled Tianjin Tianhai.

Chinese Super League side Tianjin Quanjian changed its name to Tianjin Tianhai last month after its major investor, the Quanjian Group, came under investigation for suspected illegal commercial activities.

Choi was named as Tianjin head coach in November, but the two sides had to end the contract since the club could no longer afford the manager's salary following the crisis. Former Chinese football powerhouse Dalian, which finished 11th in last year's CSL, completed the "take-over" of Choi and made the official announcement on Monday.

Choi replaces Bernd Schuster. The German took over five games into the 2018 season and steered the club to safety after a poor opening to its first campaign in the top flight since 2014 following promotion from China League One.

"Fifty-nine-year-old Choi Kang-hee is Asia's most experienced coach who has made lots of achievements for clubs he has managed," Dalian said in a club statement. "We expect Choi and his team to get familiar with the club through the winter training as soon as possible, to get to know the CSL and give full play to his ability."

Choi won six K League titles and two AFC Champions League trophies with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors as coach from 2013 to 2018. Before that, he was assistant coach to the South Korean national team.

Dalian made headlines ahead of last season by signing Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan from Atletico Madrid, but despite the new arrivals it was rooted to the bottom of the standings after the opening five games.

Coach Ma Lin was fired and replaced by Schuster, with the German eventually guiding the club to an 11th-place finish in the 16-team division.

Tianhai is currently under temporary management of the Tianjin Football Association. Domestic coach Shen Xiangfu became the club's caretaker boss after Choi's departure. Also, the club reached some "player exchange" deals with Guangzhou Evergrande during the Spring Festival holiday.

Former Quanjian players Zhang Xiuwei and Liu Yiming were among the six new domestic players Evergrande introduced for the new season in recent days. Zhang, 22, and 23-year-old Liu were both national youth team members and were considered as future stars by Tianjin.

In return, four Evergrande players — Brazil striker Alan, domestic players Liao Lisheng, Zhang Chenglin and Wen Jiabao — joined Tianjin on loan — Evergrande will be responsible for the players' salary.

The future of Tianjin's own Brazil striker Alexandre Pato remains uncertain with the 2019 CSL kicking off in 20 days' time.

Losing the 2018 CSL title to Shanghai SIPG and having seen its seven-year dominance of the domestic league ended, Evergrande has made big moves in the domestic market. Apart from the two newcomers from Tianjin, the other four new signings are He Chao from Changchun Yatai (Changchun got relegated after the 2018 season), Wei Shihao from Beijing Guo'an, Gao Zhunyi from Hebei China Fortune and Wu Shaocong, who had been playing on loan in the J League.

All the six new signings were born between 1995 and 2000, supposedly the most competitive players of their generation. The signings are considered by domestic media as proof of Evergrande's intention of becoming a "national training team". Fabio Cannavaro's team will bring together as many national players as it can so that the players can train and play as one team in the CSL and at Asian-level games to get ready for the 2022 World Cup.

Despite speculation, the "national training team" concept has never been officially acknowledged by the country's football authority, though Evergrande has never openly denied the "rumors".

Currently with only two foreign players in the squad — Brazil midfielders Paulinho and Talisca — Evergrande can add two more new foreign players before the new season kicks off.

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