Who are Guangzhou R&F? Meet the Chinese Super League upstarts gunning for an inter-city power shift
Who are they?
GUANGZHOU R&F FORM
Results are all from R&F's recent training tour to Turkey
- 19 Jan: W 1-0 Osnabruck (Germany)
- 21 Jan: W 3-1 Dinamo Bucharest (Romania)
- 23 Jan: L 1-3 Mordovia Saransk (Russia)
- 27 Jan: D 0-0 Petrolul (Romania)
- 29 Jan: L 0-2 Pohang Steelers (South Korea)
- 1 Feb: W 3-0 Wisla Krakow (Poland)
From humble beginnings in the mid-1980s, Shenyang were one of the pioneer teams during the establishment of the Chinese Super League in 2004. Various company takeovers saw the club change names several times and shift bases to Changsha and Shenzhen before settling in their present location.
They were in the second-tier and on the brink of liquidation in mid-2011 when they were bought over by local property giants who go by the same name as the club does now. With a huge injection of financial muscle, they were promoted that season and established themselves as a force in the Chinese club scene.
Often overshadowed by the domestic and continental successes of city rivals Guangzhou Evergrande Tianbao, R&F had their best campaign last year when they finished third in the Chinese top flight, securing a ticket to Asia's top club competition under former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson.
In recent seasons, the club has boasted a string of prolific import forwards who have consistently delivered in front of goal. Present top striker Abderrazak Hamdallah continued the fine tradition with a prolific 2014 where he notched 22 league goals in as many matches.
Together with Nigerian forward Aaron Samuel, who is not registered for Asian competition due to foreign import quota allocations, their combined physical presence and positioning inside the box gives many an opposing defence countless headaches.
Despite fielding Asian internationals in Jang Hyun Soo, Park Jong Woo and Jiang Zhipeng, defence is the team’s biggest Achilles heel. In the pre-season tour of Turkey, European opponents frequently exposed their poor positioning when without the ball in their own half.
The full-backs in particular concede space regularly to opposition wingers, who then have the luxury of time to pick out their colleagues inside the box when delivering crosses.
Head coach Cosmin Contra, who only took charge of the club on 4 January, prefers to play a 4-3-3 formation, with Spanish attacking midfielder Michel Herrero the creative fulcrum of the team.
Contra prefers the team to make the quick transition from defence to attack down the wings when they are in possession, and to adopt a high pressing game from the front without the ball.
Former Romanian international Cosmin Contra has big shoes to fill in his first coaching assignment outside of Europe, after leaving La Liga side Getafe midway through the European football season.
With extensive playing experience at leading European giants AC Milan and Atletico Madrid, he successfully steered Getafe out of relegation trouble in 2013/14 and is expected to make a serious pursuit for silverware this year with R&F.
Former Spain Under-21 attacking midfielder Michel Herrero holds the key to his team’s fortunes after following his manager to China last month and impressing during the training tour in Turkey.
Capable of unlocking defences with a killer pass or finding the back of the net himself, the 26-year-old pulls the strings in the final third of the field.
Previously little-heard of outside China, Guangzhou R&F appeared more regularly in national sports headlines after the takeover by their present owners.
Their big name signings like former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, who steered the club to their best league position in 2014, and Nigerian forward Yakubu Aiyegbeni has seen their profile rise dramatically in recent years.
With Evergrande achieving domestic dominance and gaining international credibility, R&F have been the poorer cousins despite the financial muscle and squad strength many local clubs can only dream of possessing.
While Brazilian playmaker Davi, Yakubu and Hamdallah have been prolific in the Chinese Super League, it was a local striker named Zhang Shuo who helped R&F return to the Chinese Super League.
After previous stints with Tianjin Teda, Indonesian side Persik Kediri and A-League side Newcastle Jets, the 31-year-old contributed 8 important goals in the second-tier Chinese League One after joining mid-season in 2011 to help the club regain their top-flight status.