Luiz Felipe Scolari has guided China’s serial championship winners Guangzhou Evergrande to the Asian Champions League title. For the Brazilian, it makes up for the worst ignominy in his career.
About 17 months after his biggest humiliation as a coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari has returned to the sunny side of football with Guangzhou Evergrande. With a massive smile over his face, the Brazilian stood on the stage for the nighttime reception after the victory against Al-Ahli Dubai FC in the final of Asia’s Champions League and, surrounded by his team, savoured the moments in the spotlight. Club boss Xu Jiayin and premium sponsor Jack Ma, the founder of the IT group Alibaba, first filled the six-level champagne pyramid and then showered the coach and team with heart-warming words.
The 1-0 win – the goal was scored by the Brazilian Elkeson in the 54th minute – in front of 60,000 fans at home in Tianhe (Milky Way) Arena secured the south Chinese their second continental title within the space of three years – and has opened the door for a new era in Asian football.
For the new coach, the triumph is a special moment in a career that has been full of highlights. “Sometimes one’s happy, sometimes one’s sad. Today is a magical day for me,” said Scolari, who won the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. However last summer, he and hosts Brazil were sensationally thrashed 7-1 in the semifinal against Germany. The unprecedented disgrace for the Selecao duly cost him his job.
“A real champion never gives up,” said Scolari whose team has gone 23 competitive games unbeaten ever since he took over in June. He knew great things were expected of him and has fulfilled them with flying colours. Initially he led the club to their fifth consecutive league title and then he and his players kept their cool for the matches on the international stage. Scolari succeeded in driving out the sense of insecurity within the team that was often visible at the start of the season under Italy’s World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro. Guangzhou has since developed into a mature side that has been able to dominate games by playing keep ball whilst adeptly waiting for their chances.
The highlights on the pitch have also been supplied by Brazilians, like goal-scorer Elkeson or World Cup participant Paulinho who was a member of the team that came so badly unstuck 7-1 against Germany. Observers are agreed that the club has not reached its peak but has been given extra impetus by winning the Champions League again. Scolari is definitely setting big targets. “Why shouldn’t we win the Club World Cup? I’ve got excellent players that have dreams,” he said, “We can do it.”
However the coach knows the club has a lot of work ahead of it. The gap to the top European clubs is still far too big but the club’s management is taking the necessary measures behind the scenes to catch up. In the coming year, Guangzhou wants to be the first Asian club to go public and take new capital on board that will be invested in building a new football dynasty on the continent. Despite enjoying a lot of success on the pitch in recent years, Guangzhou Evergrande is however still in the red. The Chinese ended 2015 with a loss of 40-million US dollars. Up until now though, the owners Xu and Ma are accepting the losses. They themselves are worth billions and are planning to lead the club into the profit zone in the coming years.
Scolari hopes the plans will include their own stadium. The Tianhe Arena is the property of the city of Guangzhou which has a population of 13 million and was formerly known as Canton. Problematical however is the influence the city authorities want to exert in the club as the local officials have nothing against being able to bask in the glory themselves. It is also why club boss Xu forwent the advertising revenue from the car maker Dongfeng Nissan and instead placed the insurance branch of his Evergrande group on the players’ chests. In an editorial, the state news agency Xinhua therefore accused the club of putting Evergrande’s reputation as a reliable economic partner at stake and that they had been acting arrogantly. However, as long as Scolari continues to win, he is providing the club with the best arguments to carry on down the road it is already taking.