China’s cash-strapped Guangzhou name Zheng Zhi as player-coach

Beijing (AFP) – Eight-time Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou FC have appointed Zheng Zhi as player-coach, with the club fighting for its future because of a debt crisis at owners China Evergrande.

The 41-year-old, a midfielder who played in the English Premier League for Charlton Athletic, takes charge of China’s most successful football team following the sacking two months ago of Fabio Cannavaro.

Zheng, a club stalwart who captained China, has been taking training at Guangzhou since the end of November, state news agency Xinhua said.

The CSL resumes this weekend after a four-month break, but the club have reportedly been unable to pay the players’ salaries.

“We hope all the club’s coaches, players and staff will summon a strong sense of honour, responsibility and team spirit to put all our difficulties behind us… and do our utmost to complete this season’s match obligations,” the club said in a statement.

Zheng will act as “executive head coach as well as a player”.

Reacting to Zheng’s appointment, one football fan wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo: “It’s a pretty bold move to take over at a time like this.”

Evergrande acquired then second-tier Guangzhou in 2010 and ushered in a period of great success bolstered by the arrival of big-name players and coaches. 

Brazilian international midfielder Paulinho arrived from Tottenham Hotspur and the Italian World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi took over as coach, with his compatriot Cannavaro most recently in charge.

The club won the Asian Champions League in 2013 and 2015.

But China Evergrande, a major property developer, has been struggling for months under a $300 million debt pile exacerbated by Beijing’s drive to curb excessive leverage in the real estate industry.

The CSL once had a reputation for lavish spending, but the money has dried up dramatically in the last couple of years and champions Jiangsu FC folded earlier this year.

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