HONG KONG, Oct 23 (Reuters) - 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 their superiority despite the heavy spending by many of their 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 were 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 ($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.”
Guangzhou are 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 Ancelloti will replace the Brazilian at the helm, with an announcement due at the end of the season.
Whoever replaces the World Cup winner will have to deal with an ageing squad that has struggled at times on both the domestic and continental stage.
Evergrande were eliminated from this year’s Asian Champions League - a tournament they won under Scolari and Marcello Lippi - at the quarter-final stage by SIPG, who will once again present a serious challenge to their 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 they were in the second division, and the China captain has been a key part of their 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.”
Reporting by Michael Church in Hong Kong, editing by Ed Osmond