HONG KONG (Reuters) - Manager Paulo Sousa blamed poor planning in the transfer market for Tianjin Quanjian’s inability to replace key players Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste following the Chinese Super League side’s exit from the Asian Champions League this week.
Tianjin were eliminated by Japan’s Kashima Antlers at the quarter-final stage on Tuesday after a second leg 3-0 home loss resulted in a 5-0 aggregate defeat for a side making their debut appearance in the continental championship.
But with Witsel leaving for Borussia Dortmund in the off-season and Modeste unavailable due to a dispute with the club, Sousa has only been able to call on Alexander Pato of the foreign trio vital to the team’s fortunes last season.
With his side sitting 10th in the Chinese Super League (CSL) standings, the Portuguese coach admits the loss of such key players has had a significant impact on his team this term.
“It’s a fact that it cost us a lot,” Sousa told reporters.
“Axel and Modeste are key players for us, not only for what they represent in their game on the pitch but also the level for Chinese players also increased, their confidence in everything.
“At that time, we were practically done with our organisation. All the concepts were acquired within the team.
“Offensively, defensively, everything was done. And we needed to rectify that but we couldn’t go to the market because we could not anticipate.”
The ability to bring high-profile foreign players to the CSL have been hit over the last year by a 100 percent levy imposed on transfers higher than 45 million yuan ($6.58 million) by the Chinese Football Association.
Sousa, though, stressed it was Tianjin’s inability to prepare for life without the key duo that had hurt their prospects of advancing to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League.
“It’s not only a question of the tax, it’s also a question of the planning,” he said. “We made lots of mistakes in this. We were really poor in that situation and hopefully we can rectify this in the future.”
($1 = 6.8434 yuan)
Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by John O'Brien