Rafa Benitez, one of Europe’s most successful and highly regarded football managers, has left Premier League club Newcastle United to join Chinese side Dalian Yifang. The northeast Chinese club Dalian Yifang is owned by one of China’s richest people Wang Jianlin, founder and owner of real estate conglomerate Wanda Group. This is the same Wanda group that is an official partner of FIFA, and sponsor of Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium. The club’s ambition has been clear in recent years, with the signings of former Napoli talisman Marek Hamsik, mercurial Belgian winger Yannick Carrasco, and Ghanian striker Emmanuel Boateng. The latest big money signing comes in the managerial department, with Rafa Benitez reported to be earning around $12 million per season, double what he was earning in the Premier League with Newcastle.
After his unveiling, Rafa Benitez, commented, “This club has all the components that we were looking for to start a new chapter with the maximum motivation. Among the directors of the club I have found people who value my track record, such as the Chairman of the Wanda Group, Mr. Wang, who is keen to grow this club as much as possible, develop a tremendous project and support this growth with all the necessary resources. We share the same ambition of developing a great project here and leave a legacy in Dalian.”
Following a breakdown in contract with negotiations with much maligned Newcastle owner Mike Ashley, Benitez penned a letter to Newcastle fans announcing that he would be leaving the club. With such a high profile manager now looking for a new job, many clubs were keen to sign the studious Spaniard, including Scottish treble winners Celtic. Instead Rafa’s head was turned by the Dalian team, who have won the CSL 4 times in 1990’s, but have not lifted a league title since 1998.
Clearly Benitez was sold on the Dalian Yifang project, commenting, “”What I have found at Dalian is an incredible project that has arrived at the perfect time and this has been a major factor in my decision. We’ve accepted the challenge of leading a superb project with the full backing and confidence of the club’s leadership team.” After citing the lack of a clear project and vision at Newcastle, Dalian seems to have satiate Benitez’s desire to be fully supported by the club’s hierarchy.
Benitez has a proven track record of success at many of the top clubs in Europe, including Liverpool, Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Valencia, and Napoli. He has won many honors including the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool in 2004/2005, the UEFA Europa League with Chelsea, and two Spanish La Liga titles with underdog outfit Valencia. He is known to be a master tactician with exceptional attention to detail. His side typically display a high degree of defensive organization, often devastating opponents on the counter attack. His most recent achievement was keeping the underfunded Newcastle squad bereft of top quality talent out of the Premier League relegation zone.
Benitez continued on the promise of the Chinese Super League, “For some years China has achieved drawing the attention of the football world towards the Super League. Myself and my coaching team will also try to help achieve this goal by bringing our extensive experience in having success with top European clubs to our work with Dalian. The challenge now is to create the foundations for success both now and for the future. We know it won’t be simple as there are some big rivals, but we are confident that there is huge potential and great commitment from the directors of the club to create something great at this club.”
In addition, Benitez spoke about the cultural value of moving to a new country in China, saying he looked forward to the, “rich and diverse cultural aspects of China and enjoy and lifestyle and culture experience that will add a great deal to my outlook.”
He paid tribute to the fans of Dalian Yifang, saying, “Dalian Yifang is a historic club in one of the most football passionate cities in the country, so this is an added attraction. Everyone says how loyal the Dalian fans are and we’ve witnessed this passion for the club from the very first moment. Without doubt coming to a club with such great supporters was another key in making this commitment.” Following a really strong connection with Newcastle’s passionate fanbase, Benitez knows the value of having the fans onside, and is keen to galvanize all of Dalian to support his team.
While the Chinese Super League has been able to attract some top quality talent from Europe with massive wages, the managerial talent in the league has always been lackluster in comparison. Rafa Benitez undeniably has the most impressive managerial CV, with vast advantages in experience and awards on the rest of the managers in the Chinese Super League. Expect Benitez’s Dalian team to develop a noticeable tactical advantage over other clubs, with trademark Benitez defensive organization. Reunited with Marek Hamsik from their days together at Napoli, Benitez is likely to displace the traditional powers at the top of the table like Guangzhou Evergrande, Shanghai SIPG and Beijing Guoan. However, rumors have been swirling that Arsenal target Yannick Carrasco wants to return to Europe. Surely if that happens, owner Wang Jianlin will sanction a worthy replacement, to provide Benitez with the squad he needs to challenge at the top. One thing is for sure, the arrival of Rafa Benitez will challenge all other managers in the league to raise their standards, or risk being left behind by one of Europe’s foremost tactical minds.