FIFA World Cup champion Fabio Cannavaro is not enjoying the best moment in his career as coach of the Chinese Super League powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande. After a 2-2 draw against Henan Jianye, Cannavaro was sent to a “Corporate Culture Training”. Former captain of the team, prominent Chinese football figure Zheng Zhi will take over the coaching position temporarily.
The decision came after a series of unsatisfactory losses in recent games. Earlier last week, Guangzhou Evergrande was knocked out of the AFC Champions League tournament by the Japanese club Urawa Reds in the semi-finals. Guangzhou Evergrande won the AFC Champions League twice in 2013 and 2015. However, the two-time champion has not been able to reach the finals for four consecutive years. According to Channel News Asia, Cannavaro did not attend the post-game press conference. The 46-year-old Italian won merely 1 game out of his last 9 in various tournaments.
Channel News Asia also reported that footage showed Cannavaro shaking hands with people and seemingly saying goodbye before leaving the stadium. Chinese media Southern Metropolis Daily later reported that Cannavaro’s legal team sent in a letter to Guangzhou Evergrande shortly after the announcement. It is believed that Cannavaro mistakenly thought that he was dismissed after the announcement.
The latest report from NetEase Sports says that the legal team representing Cannavaro has retracted the letter. Cannavaro said that he was not aware of the letter getting sent. It is believed that Cannavaro did not take the scheduled corporate culture training. After the incident, Cannavaro met with executives from Guangzhou Evergrande and then flew out to Dubai for a one-week-long vacation.
It remains unclear what the next moves are for both Cannavaro and Guangzhou Evergrande.
For Cannavaro, the past few years are full of rough coaching experiences.
The Italian coach was dismissed by Guangzhou Evergrande earlier in 2015. If Cannavaro was let go from the club for another time, it will be the second time for this former World Cup champion to be fired by the same team in five years.
The former Real Madrid defender also had a brief time coaching the Chinese national team before getting replaced after two games. Cannavaro’s recent coaching experience has not been pleasant. Under his leadership in 2018, Guangzhou Evergrande finished 2nd in the Chinese Super League, and was eliminated in the AFC Champions League at the Round of 16.
Reports from South China Morning Post suggest that former head coach for the Guangzhou Evergrande, Luis Felipe Scolari, might be able to return to the club and replace the underperforming Fabio Cannavaro. There are also reports suggesting that Mr. Xu Jiayin, the owner of Guangzhou Evergrande football club, was irritated by the results of the club in recent weeks.
With three games left in the 2019 Chinese Super League season, Guangzhou is leading all teams with a total of 63 points. However, after suffering from a draw with Henan Jianye in the previous game. Guangzhou’s lead is now cut back to 1 point. 2018 CSL champion Shanghai SIPG and Beijing GuoAn are both serious title contenders with 62 and 61 points respectively. Furthermore, Guangzhou Evergrande will be playing against Shanghai SIPG on Nov. 23rd. The result of the game will likely be decisive in the final outcome of the 2019 title race.
For the acting head coach Zheng Zhi, the current dynamic within this Guangzhou team is problematic. Issues with the coaching team are exacerbating, and as a player who is expected to get on the pitch in the remaining of the season, it is unreasonable to assume Zheng is a suitable replacement for the Italian football legend.
Furthermore, Zheng is not a qualified football manager as of today. According to Sina Sports, Guangzhou Evergrande’s coaching team, which mainly consist of Cannavaro’s backroom staff, refuse to work with anyone who is not qualified to be a head coach. It is a challenging task for Zheng Zhi to handle the ongoing crisis. With no clear signs of how things will proceed, Guangzhou Evergrande has yet to clarify their decision to send a former World Cup champion into corporate training classes.
It is clear that Fabio Cannavaro’s job is on the line. However, the amount of severance pay that the Italian football manager is could receive would be a cost too high to bear. According to Sina Sports, Cannavaro was awarded an annual salary of 12 million Euros after his return to Guangzhou in 2017. The five-year-long deal made it impossible for Guangzhou to sack him on the spot until 2022 without paying a heavy price. The complicated financial situation might have left chance for Cannavaro to keep his job, and perhaps try to bounce back from the mediocre performances in the past.
With approximately three weeks to prepare for the crucial game against Shanghai SIPG, Guangzhou Evergrande will need to solve a huge amount of issues both on and off of the pitch. The team must reflect on its past performances to make the necessary adjustments for better performances in the games to come. And more importantly, the prominent Chinese football club also needs to actively address the existing conflicts between the coaching team and the club’s front office.