Hamsik coup has Dalian dreaming

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, February 15, 2019
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Marek Hamsik on the ball for Napoli during an Italian Serie A match against Sampdoria on Feb 2. A team lawyer said on Wednesday the 31-year-old Slovakian has sealed a move to Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang.

After enduring a difficult return to the Chinese Super League last season, Dalian Yifang has reloaded with some serious firepower as it eyes a major improvement this term.

The latest addition to Dalian's ranks is coveted Napoli captain Marek Hamsik. On Wednesday, the lawyer for the Serie A side claimed the deal has been completed.

"Hamsik is a Dalian player from 20:30 (19:30 GMT) this evening," Napoli lawyer Mattia Grassani told Italy's Radio Kiss Kiss.

According to AFP, Napoli had suspended the deal because of a disagreement over "payment methods" with Dalian, which finished 11th in the CSL last season.

However, the move appears to have been revived, with Dalian reportedly set to pay Napoli 20 million euros ($22.6 million) for Hamsik in two installments: 5 million euros immediately, with the balance paid within a year.

The three-year deal will reportedly give Hamsik an annual salary of 9 million euros ($10.2 million)-three times what he earns in Italy.

Capturing Hamsik is a massive coup for Dalian - a rare talent who boasts both world-class playmaking and scoring ability, and who, at 31, is still at the peak of his powers.

The Slovakian international arrived in Napoli in 2007 from Brescia and has gone on to overtake the legendary Diego Maradona as the club's all-time scorer, with 121 goals in 520 appearances.

Although Napoli has pushed seven-time reigning champion Juventus close in recent seasons, a Serie A title has eluded Hamsik in Naples. He has, however, bagged two Coppa Italia championships and one Super Cup title.

News of Hamsik's transfer was greeted with glee by Dalian fans, with many jesting that it was the best Valentine's Day gift they had ever received.

Meanwhile, Dalian has also shaken up its coaching staff, with South Korean boss Choi Kang-Hee on Monday confirmed as German Bernd Schuster's replacement.

The 59-year-old Choi earned a name for himself at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who he led to two AFC Champions League crowns, in 2006 and 2016, and six Korean topflight titles.

He also boasts international experience, having managed South Korea from 2011-13.

"Dalian Yifang welcomes the arrival of Mr Choi Kang-Hee and his team," a club statement read. "We hope he can fit into the squad and the Chinese Super League as soon as possible through the on-going winter training. With all of his talent, we believe he can lead the team to a brilliant result in the new season."

Dalian has also boosted its domestic player quota by signing five China internationals - midfielders Zhao Xuri, 33, from Tianjin Tianhai, and Qin Sheng, 32, from Shanghai Shenhua; and defenders Zhao Mingjian, 31, from Hebei China Fortune; Li Jianbin, 29, from Shenhua and 31-year-old Yang Shanping from Tianhai.

Apart from Li, the rest of the new players are Dalian-born, giving the team a nice balance between homegrown and imported talent.

"In 2019, I will wear the blue jersey of Dalian, and although there are difficulties ahead, we will eventually overcome them all," said veteran Zhao Xuri, who played for Team China at last month's Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. "For my own hometown, I will push my limit! Dalian, I'm back!"

Qin added his voice to that local fervor, saying: "Dalian's kids are all back home! In 2019 season, we will try our best to fight for the honor of this city till the last minute!"

Last season, Dalian splashed a combined $58 million on Atletico Madrid attacking duo Yannick Carrasco and Nicolas Gaitan.

Along with former West Ham and Southampton defender Jose Fonte ($7 million), the talented trio was supposed to transform newly promoted Dalian into a top-six contender.

However, the imports struggled for consistency and a relegation battle ensued, with the Liaoning province club eventually avoiding the drop by just three points.

Dalian Yifang is the latest incarnation of the legendary Dalian Wanda club, which won four league championships between 1994 and 1998 in the early years of pro soccer in China.

Dalian Wanda became Dalian Shide when Wanda Group sold the club in 2000, and 12 years later it quit the CSL.

After years in the doldrums, Yifang won China League One in 2017 to win promotion back to the CSL.

Now with Hamsik and its new band of experienced homegrown stars spearheading its challenge, hopes are high in Dalian a return to the glory days could be just around the corner.

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