English coach White makes mark in ‘ruthless’ Chinese football

Tokyo (AFP) – After making a splash on the tiny, honeymoon island of Guam, English coach Gary White is already proving a hit in the cut-throat world of Chinese football.

The 42-year-old, who left the palm-fringed Pacific island to manage Shanghai Shenxin earlier this year, has his eye on winning promotion to the Chinese Super League next season after saving the team from relegation.

“I came in June and the club was basically in free-fall,” White told AFP in a telephone interview. “Now there will be pressure to go up.”

White, who formerly played for English non-league club Bognor Regis, began coaching in 1998 when he was living on a council estate in Luton, north of London, and faxed every national association in the world looking for work.

Following spells with the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas before Guam, he arrived in Shanghai, where he was forced to plunder the reserves after being told there was no money in the transfer kitty.

“I got rid of a lot of dead wood and made some tough decisions,” he said, after guiding his side to a top-10 finish in China’s first division, one below the Super League.

“The first thing I had to do was get the players to think more positively because they didn’t have much belief, there was no motivation,” added White. 

“It’s been a lot of hard work: getting to know the players, taking them for coffee to find out what makes them tick.”

White led all three national sides he has coached to their highest FIFA ranking. But at Shanghai he faces a battle to keep his best players out of the clutches of richer clubs. 

“Most clubs in China are just teams where somebody’s gone to the supermarket and bought the best ingredients,” he said, referring to the Chinese game’s eye-watering spending power.

“There’s so much money in China, they can get any player they want. A lot of the bigger clubs are short-term thinkers.”

“Shenxin is a long-term thinking club,” added White, whose billionaire chairman Xu Guoliang owns a gold mine.

“A lot of the players in the first team have come through the academy system. They try to give kids a chance.”

– Allardyce ‘disgrace’ –

With Chinese clubs outspending their English Premier League rivals in this year’s winter transfer window, top targets such as Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Ramires and Hulk are increasingly accepting lucrative offers from China.

“They’re definitely putting the money behind the talk,” said White, who has pitted his wits against the likes of Clarence Seedorf and Fabio Cannavaro in China’s League One. 

White credits his Chinese wife Rui and baby son Flash for helping to ease the transition from island life to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.

“It’s a very ruthless environment in China, but my wife has been great with the language and culture,” he said. “She’s also started to get into football. 

“When we beat Cannavaro’s team (Tianjin) and everyone was celebrating, she was the first one to say: ‘You need to get focused, it’s just one game!’ She helps me keep my feet on the ground. No messing about!”

White offered some tips to young English coaches struggling to get a foothold in the game.

“If I had any advice it would be to go and further your horizons a little bit, don’t sit around waiting for offers,” he said. “Go into uncomfortable areas — it’s where you really find out about yourself.”

He also believes English coaches have not been helped by the scandal that cost Sam Allardyce his job after one game as England manager, when he was caught in an embarrassing newspaper sting. 

“It really was disappointing with Sam,” White said. “I think it’s a disgrace. It doesn’t help the market for English coaches in terms of clubs looking at you.”

But he said his ultimate goal was managing England — which would complete quite a journey after his stints in Bognor, Guam and Shanghai.

“I’d definitely love to coach the national team and put some pride back into the national team,” said White. “It would be a wonderful honour. That would be my end goal.”

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