By coincidence through a LinkedIn-update, I realized it’s my ‘3 years anniversary’ these days at Shanghai SIPG F.C. In football - that’s like a lifetime period compared to other businesses (!).
And sometimes after a hard and long period of work; it’s time to step back, evaluate, and reflect on the past, the current situation & look into the future.
Building a club from scratch
I still remember the first days in the hotel where we first stayed in Shanghai. We had several meetings and literally discussed the amount of balls, cones and bibs needed to start the training. So we indeed started from scratch. In some way we faced many small issues and misunderstandings as it was a new situation for everyone involved, but on the other hand the possibilities were incredible as we could evolve the club in direction we wanted to.
In the first season we were all a “bit high” meaning everything was new and overwhelming, so we kind of had a “kick” which helped us through out the season and gave us a 2nd place in the league only two points from the Championship. A fantastic achievement with a young group of players and into the Champions League next season as well. We were already writing history.
Back to reality
In the second year it was the first time our players were trying to compete in three tournaments (CSL, ACL, FA Cup) at the same time and for players/staff not used to this - it’s a massive change. Not only the amount of games, but also the entire season-planning. The pre-season, the monthly/weekly training curriculum, the traveling, the different time zones in Asia, etc. It’s a big test physically, but mostly mentally for a player and for the staff/club in general.
Our Champions League campaign were solid ended with a loss in the 1/4-finals to the later CL-winners Jeonbok Motors from Korea, but we were struggling finding momentum in the league and barely became 3rd in the end and with 13 points less than the year before. The 3-campaigns turned out to be a huge challenge for us all.
“Close, but no cigar…“
This season we started very well and had 2,3 point average after 10 rounds and still made it through to the knock-out phase in the Champions League and in the FA Cup, so the players, staff and club had now learned to compete at the same time in different competitions. ‘Learning by doing’ is the only way.
In the end we did not get our season-trophy and the year became a “close, but no cigar-feeling” where we performed well in all competitions, but lacked the last % and quality to get the outcome in the end. But as a club we have come extremely far in just 3 years. We still have to remember this club was founded in December 2014.
When I look back to December 2014 and compare it to today; it’s almost like a new club. The setup, structures within the club in the different departments, etc. - we are looking very solid and the future looks bright. Our 1. Team squad average age is 25,1, which means the peak-years are still to come for this group.
Furthermore when I analyse on our academy we now have a good structure, a clear strategy “THE SIPG WAY”, 10-12 youth national team players and prospects in different age groups hopefully ready to take the club further on in the future.
We have as well created 44 cooperation schools and academies around China to ensure a path from U5-U13 with a bigger player pool (more than 11.000 players), so we in the future can have even better players than today.
My own situation
I have always used two key sentences to our president and General Manager; “I’m not important - the club are”. And: “it’s my duty to make myself dispensable”.
I’m here to help build a stronger football club from the 1. Team to U5 with a clear philosophy and detailed structures in all departments, so the work, progression and evaluation in the end can run itself. My hope is one day the club tell me they don’t need me anymore as the local staff can run everything - then I will have succeeded.
But in a short-term view we still have many things to develop and improve, and I can’t wait for 2018 to arrive. Another year - another chance to push this club forward. Still so much potential to chase!