As he won league titles as head coach of Real Madrid, Milan and Juventus, Fabio Capello never had to contemplate relegation. In his first foray to China, it has suddenly become a very real threat.
Capello, winner of the UEFA Champions League in 1994 and who also led the national teams of England and Russia to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, was appointed as head coach of Jiangsu Suning in June.
In three Chinese Super League games under one of the world’s most famous coaches, Jiangsu has collected just one point. More worrying still is that in those games, the Nanjing-based club failed to score.
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The latest setback was a 1-0 home loss to Shanghai SIPG, which was missing star players Oscar and Hulk through suspension. That loss left Jiangsu bottom of the 16-team league, three points adrift of safety.
“Maybe this is the most testing situation that Capello has ever faced,”Gary White, who led Shanghai Shenxin clear of relegation from China’s League One in 2016, told The Associated Press.
“He does not have a team full of world-class players to rely on. He must bring the big foreign stars and the Chinese players together and get them to play for each other. It is not about quality, it is about motivation.”
The player stocks are still high at the club which finished runner-up in the 2016 season. Bolstered by more than $80 million spent on Brazilian internationals Alex Teixeira and Ramires, Jiangsu pushed Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande all the way for the title.
This season the stars remained at the club and firepower was added in the shape of Colombian international striker Roger Martinez.
There were high hopes at the start of the season but the expected title challenge hasn’t materialized and Jiangsu started to slip down the standings, winning just once in the first third of the season. South Korean coach Choi Yong-soo resigned on June 1.
“With the experience Capello has, you would think he can turn it around,” White said. “This club should not be bottom of the league with the players they have. He has to get them to play for each other, the team, the fans and the city.”
The expected upturn has yet to happen, though the 71 year-old Italian coach is trying to stay positive.
“We are improving,” Capello said after the latest loss. “We are playing better all the time but we are lacking confidence especially in front of goal. Against Shanghai we played well and did not deserve to lose …I can see the quality that there is in the team.”
Capello has been in China for less than a month but much of the Chinese media has warned of the need for a result soon.
However, Capello can take heart from Felix Magath. The former Bayern Munich boss arrived in June 2016 to take over a struggling Shandong Luneng.
“The Chinese Super League is a tough league and when you are in the relegation zone, confidence falls and when you are a big team with famous players, the other teams like to beat you,” said Magath, who steered Shandong to safety with a margin of just two points.
This season Shandong is much-improved and currently sits in fifth.
For Capello, anywhere outside the bottom two when the season ends in October will do.