Five key moments for China’s Evergrande

Beijing (AFP) – Key moments in the history of Guangzhou Evergrande, who won their sixth consecutive Chinese Super League title last week and are touted as Asia’s first superclub:

Relegated for match-fixing

If ever there was a cloud that had a silver lining. Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals sold the club in February 2010 when it had been relegated after being found guilty of match-fixing back in 2006. Evergrande Real Estate Group Evergrande took over and started signing Chinese international players as well as talented Brazilian star Muriqui. Guangzhou won promotion at a canter and the team has never looked back as the investment continued and the trophies started flowing.

Record-breaking signing

Argentine playmaker Dario Conca was not, and is not, a household name in Europe but his arrival in the summer of 2011 showed the world that Evergrande and China had money to spend. Conca joined from Brazilian club Fluminense in July 2011 for a record Chinese transfer fee of $10 million. But it was his wages that made headlines: his reported $12.5 million a year made him the third-highest paid player in the world. It was the first sign that Chinese football really meant business.

Enter Lippi

Conca proved an astute signing as he helped Evergrande to their first Chinese Super League title in 2011. Then in May 2012, coach Lee Jang-Soo was fired with the team top of the table. The reason was Marcello Lippi. The club wanted a world-class and world-famous coach, and found it in the World Cup-winning Italian. It was felt Lippi could raise the club’s profile, attract better foreign players and win more titles. If Conca raised eyebrows, Lippi made the world sit up.

Breakthrough Asian title

Even before Evergande won their first domestic title in 2011, they had their eyes on Asia. After winning again in 2012 and 2013, the continental crown became the priority. No Chinese team had ever won the AFC Champions League and Evergrande’s 2012 debut had ended at the quarter-final stage. But in 2013, the team went all the way under Lippi. The two-legged final ended 3-3 on aggregate with FC Seoul but Evergrande won on away goals and the city partied all night.

Alibaba buys in

In 2010, real estate company Evergrande paid around $18 million for the club. In June 2014, it sold a 50 percent stake to e-commerce giant Alibaba for $192 million. It gave the team an even firmer financial footing and indicated that the signings and titles were going to continue — expectations that have since been realised.

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