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Guangzhou's troubles deepen

By SHI FUTIAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-02-28 09:22
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Guangzhou FC is expected to struggle to field a competitive starting XI for the new Chinese Super League season due to the club's current financial difficulties. CHINA DAILY

Exodus of players leaves fallen giant in dire straits for new CSL season

Chinese Super League giant Guangzhou FC is facing an increasingly uncertain future as the domestic game's financial troubles bite hard.

After seeing an exodus of big-name stars late last year, reports over the weekend claimed that the eight-time CSL champion has now terminated the contracts of almost all its veteran and international players, including club icon Zheng Zhi, leaving fans wondering what next season's starting XI will look like.

Earlier this month, Guangzhou FC announced that the annual salary cap of first-team players for the new season had been cut from about 5 million yuan ($790,000) to 600,000 yuan ($95,000) before tax, while the basic wages for each player will be just 60,000 yuan.

Due to the financial troubles of its longtime backer, troubled property giant Evergrande, Guangzhou FC has been unable to fully pay player wages, and the situation has not improved over the past few months.

"It's not surprising at all. Actually the moment that the club announced its salary level for next season, there's only one choice for the club's star players," Soccer News journalist Li Xuan wrote on social media. "Apart from the academy youngsters, most of the first-team players cannot stay with the team. Many of them are top players in the Chinese soccer market, so how could they accept such a low salary? Only three players can have the top-level 600,000 yuan salary.

Former China international Zheng Zhi is reportedly set to leave financially stricken Guangzhou FC. CHINA DAILY

"It's just a matter of time until these players move elsewhere. Fans can just hope the legal issues can be sorted out. Although they are leaving, the players still deserve the Guangzhou fans' respect. Under difficult circumstances, all of them, including player-coach Zheng Zhi, did their absolute best on the pitch in the second phase of last season."

Following the departure of Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro as head coach, the cash-strapped club appointed first-team veteran Zheng to the dual role of player-coach.

More exits were confirmed earlier this month, with naturalized Team China players Alan, Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson), Gao Late (aka Ricardo Goulart), Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio) and Fei Nanduo (aka Fernandinho) all moving on.

"With the departures of the five naturalized stars, there are now only two naturalized players at Guangzhou FC, namely Xiao Taotao (Roberto Siucho) and Jiang Guangtai (Tyias Browning). This effectively marks the end of the Chinese Football Association's first-stage of the naturalization policy," sports commentator Han Qiaosheng wrote on Weibo.

"It comes as no surprise for most fans. After last year's World Cup qualifiers, Alan returned to Brazil. Although Ai Kesen and Luo Guofu returned to China, they didn't feature in the remainder of the Chinese Super League season.

"As for Fei Nanduo, he has been in Brazil since last year. But given their abilities, some of the naturalized players might continue playing for the national team at the 2023 Asian Cup."

Guangzhou FC's troubles are reflected across the league, with many clubs facing a fight for survival after seeing private investment dry up and revenue streams hit by the pandemic.

Before the 2021 season kicked off, the Chinese Football Association announced that six clubs, including 2020 CSL champion Jiangsu FC, had been disqualified from the professional leagues due to financial difficulties.

In November, Chinese media reported that among the 16 CSL teams, 11 were experiencing difficulties paying players' wages.

"We need to take a strong, hard look at the current state of Chinese soccer. We need to sort out all the problems that are hindering the development of the game," said CFA President Chen Xuyuan in January.

"We need to optimize the economic policies and income distribution mechanism. In a relatively short time, we hope to balance the clubs' books."

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