Far from Manchester, Pellegrini enters China’s dragons’ den
Ex-Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini is one man who will not be watching Saturday’s Manchester derby as he takes his bow with Hebei China Fortune in the ultra-volatile Chinese Super League.
At the same time as his successor, Pep Guardiola, is locking horns with Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford, Pellegrini will be pitchside 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) away as Hebei host Guangzhou Evergrande in northern China.
Qinhuangdao Olympic Sports Centre Stadium will be a novel experience for Pellegrini, 62, whose CV includes the 2014 English Premier League title and a season with Real Madrid.
But the Chilean will quickly learn that expectations and pressure are sky-high in China, where well-heeled clubs are luring a rising number of star managers — but whose owners are notoriously trigger-happy.
Since the start of the current, 16-team Chinese Super League season in March, no fewer than eight managers have been shown the door, meaning a coach’s chances of long-term survival are slim.
It hasn’t deterred a group of well-known managers who have set up camp in China, including Sven-Goran Eriksson at Shanghai SIPG and Felix Magath at Shandong Luneng.
Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Evergrande are top of the table but he appears under threat with Marcello Lippi, who masterminded the club’s 2013 AFC Champions League victory, tipped to return.
Among this season’s departures was former Juventus and Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who lasted barely two months at Beijing Guoan before fan protests cut short his reign.
Former Chelsea player Dan Petrescu was dumped by big-spending Jiangsu Suning in June, and ex-Brazil boss Mano Menezes lasted just six months at Shandong Luneng before making way for Magath.
– From Gazza to Cannavaro –
It perpetuates an attitude of “short-termism” in Chinese football, both among clubs and foreign managers, said China-based Christopher Atkins, a football agent for RWMG Sports.
“Clubs demand immediate success and when it doesn’t arrive, good managers are easily discarded and written off as failures,” he said, adding that managers also find living in China a challenge.
“Not everybody finds life in the country straightforward… Therefore it is often seen as a short-term money-earner but little more,” Atkins said.
Paul Gascoigne tried his luck during a short-lived spell as Gansu Tianma’s player-coach in 2003, and the annals of Chinese football are littered with brief tenures which came to an abrupt end.
France’s Jean Tigana became one of Shanghai Shenhua’s incredible 27 managerial casualties in the last 22 years when he was sacked only a month into the 2012 season.
However, in a communications breakdown Tigana wasn’t informed of the club’s decision, which only became clear when he was prevented from boarding the team bus en route to a game.
Tigana made his own way to the stadium, but was later pictured hailing a cab and leaving before the match started, with the manager-less Shenhua bench empty save for substitutes.
Evergrande are similarly ruthless, booting out South Korea’s Lee Jang-Soo and replacing him with Lippi after he had won two consecutive league titles and steered them into the 2012 Champions League knock-out rounds.
After Lippi quit Guangzhou last year, former world player of the year Fabio Cannavaro lasted just six months before he was dumped in favour of Scolari, with the club at the top of the table.
Expectations will be similarly high for Pellegrini at Hebei, one of China’s big spenders who have splashed out on Argentina’s Ezequiel Lavezzi and Ivorian forward Gervinho this year.
Radomir Antic, who coached both Real Madrid and Barcelona before a truncated spell at Hebei last year, warned Pellegrini would be walking a tight-rope at the club.
“The leaders will not hesitate when it comes to deciding changes if they see that the team’s needs are different,” he told Chilean daily El Mercurio.
“That happened to me and my successor (China’s Li Tie) and it could happen to Manuel.”
In a reminder of the logistical difficulties that can arise in China, Guardiola and Mourinho were scheduled to hold their first derby in Beijing in July — before the game at the Bird’s Nest was called off over an unplayable pitch.
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