HONG KONG (Reuters) - Billions of renminbi were spent and regulations changed at the last minute but at the end of a tumultuous Chinese Super League season it was continuity that proved decisive as Guangzhou Evergrande romped to a record seventh straight title.
While their rivals were spending eye-watering sums to lure the likes of Carlos Tevez and Oscar in headline-stealing moves, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s club profited from a philosophy that put team unity ahead of individual talent.
“This year the Chinese Super League title was not easy to win,” said Scolari, who claimed his third Chinese title in only two-and-a-half seasons with the club.
“We made it seven times in a row and it means so much to the club and to the club’s owner. I think this year was the most difficult one since 2011. However, my players made it here by overcoming so many obstacles.”
As highly paid foreign players and coaches flooded into China, Guangzhou’s quiet transfer business looked at odds with what was going on around them.
But as the season played out, Scolari’s decision not to disrupt his squad by bringing in big earning foreign players started to look like a wise decision.
Tevez tanked spectacularly at Shanghai Shenhua due to a mixture of injury and disinterest, while Oscar’s season at Shanghai SIPG was disrupted by an eight-game ban for his involvement in an on-field brawl in June.
Despite the loss of the Brazilian for more than a quarter of the league season, it was SIPG who put up the sternest challenge to Guangzhou in a season when decisions made by Chinese football authorities had a major impact.
Days before the start of the season the number of foreign players permitted in a starting line-up was reduced from four to three, while less than a week ahead of the mid-season transfer window a tax was imposed on high-cost transfers.
Those moves all but killed the mid-season transfer window, with Paulinho’s move from Evergrande to Barcelona for 40 million euros the most significant business done.
The loss of the influential Brazilian, Guangzhou’s best player in the first half of the campaign, could have derailed their title defence but the champions pulled together to win the title with two rounds remaining ahead of Andre Villas-Boas’ SIPG.
Guangzhou striker Gao Lin said the club’s transfer policy made the players work harder for each other.
“We need to work together to gain titles for the club and no one is irreplaceable,” he said recently.
“That is why Evergrande are always able to maximise the impact of our foreign players, unlike at some other clubs where big name players come in with an arrogant attitude.
“Then, the club and the Chinese players have to compromise to make just one player happy.”
While Guangzhou have benefited from continuity amid the ever-changing Chinese footballing landscape, they will not have that luxury next season.
Scolari has announced he is leaving the club while there are also changes at boardroom level following the removal of long-term chairman Liu Yongzhou.
Editing by Peter Rutherford