Rafael Benitez wary of the challenge at Chinese side Dalian Yifang, eyes revamp of youth talent system

Shanghai: Rafael Benitez admits he faces a stiff challenge in China but hopes to "create something great" at Dalian Yifang, where he can rely on the deep pockets of the club's owner, huge Chinese conglomerate Wanda Group.

In separate comments posted on both his own and the club's websites, the 2005 Champions League winner with Liverpool said he had been approached on previous occasions about a move to China but that nothing lined up quite like Dalian's offer.

 Rafael Benitez wary of the challenge at Chinese side Dalian Yifang, eyes revamp of youth talent system

File photo Rafael Benitez. AFP

"This club has all the components that we were looking for to start a new chapter with the maximum motivation," Benitez, who parted ways with Newcastle United last week, said on his home page.

The 59-year-old Spaniard singled out Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, China's fourth-richest person according to Forbes magazine, as a man "keen to grow this club... with all the necessary resources."

Benitez, who was announced as Dalian's new manager on Tuesday, said his immediate focus was to build on the on-pitch successes of a team that was promoted back to the Chinese Super League (CSL) this year after being relegated in 2014 and has climbed to mid-table at the season's half-way point.

But he also intends to play the long game by solidifying the club's foundations with a revamp of its youth talent system. "We know it won't be simple as there are some big rivals, but we are confident that there is huge potential and great commitment from the directors of the club to create something great at this club," Benitez said.

In comments on the team's site, he said the move "is indeed a challenge for me." The club — located in the city of Dalian in northeastern China — has never won a CSL title and its 2014 relegation prompted a player exodus and questions about its future.

But Wanda Group, one of China's biggest companies, took over it last year, leading to the signings of Argentine international Nicolas Gaitan and Slovakia's Marek Hamsik. Benitez has already joined team training and makes his debut on Sunday against Henan Jianye. The two clubs share 10th place in the 16-team top tier.

The Spaniard — who has managed some of the world's biggest clubs including Liverpool, Inter Milan, Chelsea, and Real Madrid — exchanges one northeastern industrial city for another.

He became a hugely popular figure at Newcastle after leading the club to promotion in his first full season and stabilising the team in the Premier League over the past two years. But he failed to reach an agreement with Newcastle's owners on a contract extension.

Benitez is the latest big-name foreign manager to try his luck in the CSL, following Brazil's World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari and Italian star Fabio Cannavaro, who remains in charge at CSL powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande.

The terms of Benitez's contract have not been announced, but unconfirmed reports have said he was offered 12 million pounds ($15 million) per year.

Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 17:36:00 IST