Wuhan Huanghelou's win over Tianjin Kangshifu in the first round of the Chinese Super League (CSL) on May 18, helped by Wang Xiaoshi's scoring in the second-half, pleased their fans but left the players with mixed feelings.
Their 52-year-old coach, Pei Encai, had accepted an offer from the Chinese Football Association (CFA) to become head coach of the women's national team.
CFA chief executive Xie Yalong, vice president Yang Yimin and women's department supervisor Zhang Jianqiang went to Wuhan over the weekend to see Huanghelou play Shandong in their search for a successor to Wang Haiming.
After the home side's 3-2 win, Pei had talks with the CFA, later confirming to the media that he is expected to join up with the women's team after the first stage of the 2005 CSL season.
Pei, a Tianjin native, helped Huanghelou to the top of the second division in 2004, and the club has advanced to second position in the Super League. On leaving a promising team with seven recent consecutive wins, Pei said, "I'm an army man so give top priority to the interests of the country."
One Wuhan fan, named Zhang Genqing, said on hearing the news, "Currently the most important task for the CFA is the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Pei's leaving will make local fans unhappy, but it is good news for the women's team."
Many commentators have criticized the CFA for coming to such an important decision in less than half a month of active negotiations, but Zhang Jianqiang denied that it was a sudden decision.
At a meeting of top-ranking CFA officials on May 16, Xie secured the nod for Pei to take over instead of Wang Haiming, who has been acting head coach but led the team to seventh place at the Algarve Cup this March, its worst ever performance.
Before, Wang helped the Beijing women's team take the league championships twice and the national women's youth team to win the world runner-ups. Now he will probably stay on as assistant to Pei.
"I think whoever does take over will do his best to revive the Chinese women's side. As for myself, I'm not taking it badly. I will not stop my involvement with women's soccer as my roots are here." Wang said.
"Wang and I were classmates in coach-training and we are pretty familiar with each other," Pei said. "Assuming I chose my assistant, I would choose Wang."
Pei's taking over the position realized Xie's goal of the coach of a men's team taking over training for the women's team, as the CFA has hoped more attention will be paid to developing player strength and competitiveness. But not everyone has welcomed the move.
"If the CFA thinks the current coaches of the women's team are incompetent, it's O.K. for them to choose a coach from a men's team. But they should also find a coach from a men's team to be the assistant, otherwise how could they reach consensus in leading the team?" one anonymous veteran coach complained.
Pei will soon get his official appointment from the State General Administration of Sports and is expected to take up his post later this month.
He will then go to watch personally the women's soccer Europe Cup in early June and return to train the Chinese team for teaching matches in the US in July and the East Asian four-country tournament slated for August in South Korea.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, May 19, 2005)