With all the attention on the high-profile stars heading to the Chinese Super League (CSL), it should not be forgotten that the men on the benches are increasingly recognisable – especially to fans in England.
Of the 16 teams in the top tier, five are coached by former English Premier League managers and four of them will be trying to stop Luiz Felipe Scolari from guiding Guangzhou Evergrande to a seventh successive title.
There is a very good chance that whichever of these five wins this mini-battle will be lifting the trophy come November.
Andre Villas-Boas (Shanghai SIPG)
The Portuguese tactician arrived at Chelsea in the summer of 2011 but was out on his ear the following March. A subsequent spell at Tottenham Hotspur did not go much better and he now arrives at Shanghai SIPG – via Russia – to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson.
The Swede was relieved of his duties after a third-place CSL finish and a quarter-final spot in the Asian Champions League, a decision that reveals how demanding these Chinese club bosses can be.
Luiz Felipe Scolari (Guangzhou Evergrande)
His two domestic titles since arriving in June 2015 mean the Canton club has now made it six from the last six. Despite that, the Brazilian looked set to lose his job late last year as Guangzhou wanted Marcello Lippi for a second spell, only to see the Italian take on the far more challenging role in charge of the Chinese national team.
Scolari, like Villas-Boas, struggled at Chelsea but is the favourite to finish on top of the former EPL coaches’ pile. The rest of China has been waiting, however, to see what the champions will do in the transfer market.
The competition is getting harder and there are four or five teams desperate to stop Guangzhou from making it seven straight.
Manuel Pellegrini (Hebei)
It was something of a surprise that former Everton midfielder Li Tie was fired as coach of Hebei last August. He had led the team into the top tier and had them in the top four for much of the season before a poor run of form took them down to fifth.
Li fell victim to the demand for a big name and former Real Madrid and Manchester City coach Pellegrini certainly fit that bill. Yet any bounce usually associated with a new coach did not happen.
In the seven games that were left in the season, the Chilean managed just one win. The five points collected resulted in the team slipping to seventh and it was not overly inspiring.
Things will have to improve this year or the famous coach may find the hotseat in the frozen north starting to get uncomfortable. Having Ezequiel Lavezzi fully fit, after he broke his elbow helping Argentina to the final of the 2016 Copa America, should help.
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