Monday, April 7, 2008

Interview: Shanghai Shenhua Boss Wu Jingui

Wu Jingui talking to reporters at Shanghai Shenhua's training ground
With the Chinese season just kicking off, hopes are high among all the major contenders that this will be their year. This is certainly true of Shanghai Shenhua, one of the powerhouses of football in the Middle Kingdom..

The team ended a turbulent 2007 in fourth place, not a bad achievement for a season that started with a controversial merger with Shanghai United.

Coach Wu Jingui was coach of Shenhua before the merger, was shipped out fr a few months and then returned to his old job later in the season.

At Shanghai Shenhua’s large training camp deep in the south of this sprawling city, he talked to John Duerden.

How do you feel about the new season?

Always before a new season, the feeling is the same. We are excited, a little bit nervous and we also have a vision about the season ahead. We will be stronger this last year. We have some new foreign players. We have bought three new overseas players and have kept one from last season. We had a good pre-season, we trained in China and then went to Japan and played a lot of friendly games. We have improved our training and our organization.

Which teams will be your challengers this season?
Dalian Shide, Shandong Luneng, last year’s champions Changchun Yatai are all strong teams and we expect a challenge from Beijing and Tianjin.The usual!

Fine-tuning before the season start

Any dark horses?

Chengdu have been promoted last season and have brought in a lot of experienced players and they could have a good season.

You watched the North and South Korea game. What did you think of it?

It was a good game. Both teams are at a high level and high class, especially South Korea. They are very compact. Both teams fight for everything but South Korea are at a higher level.

How about China and Australia?

We had a really good chance to win this game. They came without many of their key players and after a long journey.

The start of the season was delayed to accommodate the national team. Is this a problem?

For my part, it gives us more time to prepare for the new season but the football association also needs to think about the clubs.

clubhouse entrance

If you could change one thing about Chinese football, what would you do?

We need to look at the Premier League, they changed lots of things and improved lots of things. They brought in good coaches for example - Alex Ferguson from Scotland, Arsene Wenger from France, Benitez from Spain, Mourinho and Ramos from Valencia.

These are all foreign high-level coaches who bring a lot of things to the country. If we want to progress and improve, we have to bring in high-level coaches from outside and learn from them and help them improve Chinese football. We have had foreign coaches before but didn’t profit from that. Before 1990, we were amateur. But now every year I go to Germany or England and try to learn something new.

How about the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese players?

Chinese players are good physically but we have to change the way we play. We have good players but we need good coaches to improve them. We have quality players but not like Japan or Korea.

Why are Japanese and Korean players better?

They have been playing longer and at a higher level. In China we changed the system in 1992 and the people have to change their minds. We have to put new things in their heads.

Is Chinese football improving?

Each year it is improving but it is hard to make the big step, to reach a certain level. If you want to do so, we need to change. It is like the High Jump, once you reach two metres 20, it is difficult to jump higher but that is what we must try to do.

What kind of team is Shanghai?

We are a good team. Last year a new boss came, he brought us a lot of new things. Now we are feeling good.

Shanghai,China captain Li Weifeng

In 2007, Shanghai United merged with Shanghai Shenhua. After that, you left. How did you feel?

For me, every season is full of pressure so it was good to get the chance to relax. I went to England and Argentina to watch football.

You came back later. How did that happen?

We were always in contact and then we met with the board to talk about football and the team.

Why did they ask you to return?

There were a lot of candidates and the club talked to a lot of other coaches but I knew the team and the club. I am Chinese and knew what we needed – in my head at least!

You had so many players, around 50, how did you deal with that situation?

I had over 50 players. The foreign coach didn’t know the players that we important for the team and what the team needed. We tried to do the best for the players – which ones to keep and which ones we should let go.

Copyright: Soccerphile & John Duerden

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