Sanchez Flores quits as Shenhua manager

Ma Yue
Enrique 'Quique' Sanchez Flores resigns as manager of Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua, with former Dalian Yifang boss Choi Kang-hee tipped to take over.
Ma Yue
Sanchez Flores quits as Shenhua manager

Enrique ‘Quique’ Sanchez Flores resigned as manager of Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua on Wednesday.

Enrique ‘Quique’ Sanchez Flores resigned as manager of struggling Chinese Super League side Shanghai Greenland Shenhua on Wednesday. 

The Spaniard will very likely be replaced by former Dalian Yifang head coach Choi Kang-hee of South Korea.

The club made the announcement through its official Weibo account on Wednesday evening.

“Enrique Sanchez Flores handed in his resignation to the club due to personal reasons. After some consideration, the club decided to accept his resignation. Mr Sanchez Flores and his team worked hard and devotedly since taking over the club last December. Despite the team’s dissatisfying ranking after the first half of the CSL, a batch of young players has been given playing opportunities by Sanchez Flores and, as a result, have improved their ability, which will benefit the team’s future development.”

“The club thanks Mr Sanchez Flores and his team for their hard work in the past seven months and wish them all the best in future work and life,” the statement added.

Shenhua lies third from last in the 16-team CSL standing with 12 points from 15 rounds. The club is yet to announce the Spaniard’s successor, though Choi is the favorite to land the job.

Dalian announced Sanchez Flores' compatriot Rafael Benitez as Choi's replacement on Tuesday. The South Korean joined Dalian at the beginning of the season. He previously coached Tianjin Tianhai, a club which could not afford Choi’s salary after its major investor got involved in illegal commercial activity.

When Sanchez Flores first took over at Shenhua, the former Espanyol and Watford manager set two goals for himself — to achieve better performance than Shenhua’s seventh rank in the 2018 CSL, and to give younger players more chance.

Obviously, the club recognized his effort on the second goal, but its current league position was untenable.

Sanchez Flores said in an earlier interview that he considered his new career in China a challenge in terms of both football and cultural differences. During his short reign, the Spaniard kept experimenting with formats, using 14 different starting line-ups in the past 15 rounds of league play.

Shenhua only won one out of its seven home matches in the first half of the season. The club is on the lookout for a new foreign striker to help drag the team out of its current lowly status and predicament.

Former club general manager Zhou Jun, who left Shanghai for Dalian Yifang last year, made a return to Shenhua recently to help the team go through “its most difficult period”.

Meanwhile, Benitez admits he faces a stiff challenge in China but hopes to "create something great" at Dalian Yifang, where he can rely on the deep pockets of the club's owner, huge Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group, AFP reported.

In separate comments posted on both his own and the club's websites, the 2005 UEFA Champions League winner with Liverpool said he had been approached on previous occasions about a move to China but that nothing lined up quite like Dalian's offer.

Sanchez Flores quits as Shenhua manager

Spanish football manager Rafa Benitez, the newly appointed head coach of China's Dalian Yifang FC, attends a press conference in Dalian City, northeast China's Liaoning province, July 2, 2019.

Maximum motivation

"This club has all the components that we were looking for to start a new chapter with the maximum motivation," Benitez, who parted ways with Newcastle United last week, said on his home page.

The 59-year-old Spaniard singled out Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, chairman of Wanda Group, as a man "keen to grow this club... with all the necessary resources".

Benitez said his immediate focus was to build on the on-pitch successes of a team that was promoted back to the CSL this year after being relegated in 2014 and has climbed to mid-table at the season's half-way point.

But he also intends to play the long game by solidifying the club's foundations with a revamp of its youth talent system.

"We know it won't be simple as there are some big rivals, but we are confident that there is huge potential and great commitment from the directors of the club to create something great at this club," Benitez said.

In comments on the team's site, he said the move "is indeed a challenge for me".

The club — located in Dalian City in northeast China's Liaoning Province — has never won a CSL title and its 2014 relegation prompted a player exodus and questions about its future.

But Wanda Group, one of China's biggest companies, acquired it last year, leading to the signings of Argentina international Nicolas Gaitan and — this year — Slovakia's Marek Hamsik.

Benitez has already joined team training and makes his debut on Sunday against Henan Jianye. The two clubs share 10th place in the 16-team top tier.

The Spaniard — who has managed some of the world's biggest clubs, including Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Real Madrid — exchanges one northeastern industrial city for another.

He became a hugely popular figure at Newcastle after leading the club to promotion in his first full season and stabilizing the team in the English Premier League over the past two years. But he failed to reach an agreement with Newcastle's owners on a contract extension.

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