This north-eastern Chinese club was founded in 1983 to replace struggling second-tier side Dalian Dockyards. It’s a decision that has certainly paid off: with eight league titles, an Asian Champions League semi-final and three FA Cups to their name, Dalian Shide are the most successful Chinese club in history.
In 1984, soon after their formation, the club won promotion to the Chinese top-flight after twice finishing as champions of the second division. Relegation in 1988 could have seen Dalian fall back into obscurity, but the side nickamed “Eight-Star Dalian” recovered to earn a Jia A-League place for the 1990 season. They finished in an impressive third place in their return to the big time, just five points shy of a first A-League title. Top-flight stability over the next few years followed, before Dalian won a first league title in the inaugural professional Chinese league in 1994, powered by the goals of local boy Wang Tao.
A third-placed finish in 1995 was succeeded by an incredible haul of six titles in seven years, a record only punctuated by a ninth-placed slot in 1999. The turn of the century saw the club’s name changed from Dalian Wanda FC (the result of sponsorship from the Dalian Wanda group in 1994) to the current moniker, Dalian Shide. The glory years of the 1990s also witnessed a change of stadium, with Dalian settling in the 31,000-capacity Jinzhou Stadium in 1997.
The first years of the new millennium saw more of the same: further league titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002 firmly cemented Dalian as China’s number one club, but the success gradually dried up as the decade progressed. The reincarnation of the top flight as the Chinese Super League in 2004 has coincided with a fall in fortunes for Dalian – a solitary league title in 2005 is their only Super League championship, and since then the club has failed to finish higher than fifth as other sides have improved. Indeed, Dalian only avoided relegation in 2008 by three points, a perilous position that could have seen them relegated had it not been for Wuhan Optics Valley’s withdrawal.
Mid-table mediocrity in recent years was coupled with the tragedy of losing midfielder Zhang Yalin to lymphoma in February 2010, following the player’s two-year battle with the disease. A one-club man, Yalin’s loyalty to Dalian has been somewhat repaid with the club posthumously retiring the shirt number 26 in his honour.
Seven games into the current campaign, Dalian lie second-bottom with just one win to their name. The club will need to improve greatly over the coming months in order to survive the dreaded drop into the Chinese League One.
Although hamstrung in its appeal to European fans by the Super League’s limit on foreign players – 5 per team, including at least one Asian – Dalian’s squad still boasts some players that are vastly experienced at the highest level of both international and club football. Full-back Ricardo Esteves enjoyed first-team football at Benfica as a youngster, before moving on to Braga and Paços de Ferreira. In 2004, with his career seemingly going nowhere in his native Portugal, Esteves moved to Italy to join Serie A outfit Reggina. Relative success followed as Reggina, a traditionally second-tier club, finished mid-table, while Esteves netted his first league goal for six years. This rare goal proved to be significant: Esteves’ 32-minute leveller restricted Reggina’s opponent Bologna to one point instead of all three, and at the end of the season, Bologna were relegated on goal difference. Further spells in Italy, Portgual, Greece and South Korea followed before Dalian snapped up the 32-year-old from Marítimo last season.
Dalian have also looked to South America to fill their foreign player slots. Brazilian forward Adriano (not that one) has previously played in his homeland for Brazilian giants Fluminense and Palmeiras but looked to Asia to kick-start his career. It’s certainly worked – four goals from just seven starts represents Adriano’s best goal return since a loan spell with Bahia in 2010. Intriguingly, the player’s Wikipedia entry claims that he is “sometimes called by his nickname, ‘Adriano Michael Jackson'”.
Bulgarian frontman Martin Kumburov, signed in 2010, provides the regular goalscorer so important to a team that will be battling relegation this season. Dalian’s motives for signing Kumburov, capped 15 times by his country, are clear to see – 73 goals in 91 games for Lokomotiv Plovdiv and 33 in 44 for Lokomotiv Sofia show just how prolific the Svilengrad-born striker can be. Kumburov lived up to his billing in his first season at the club, netting 7 goals in 15 appearances. This season he has already earned Dalian three points just by himself – the Bulgarian nabbed both goals in a 2-1 victory over Qingdao Jonoon, including a late winner. Kumburov’s goals will be key in Dalian’s fight against the drop.
Completing a thoroughly global foreign roster is Zambian forward James Chamanga, a former goal-machine for Moroka Swallows in South Africa. Chamanga’s goalscoring exploits even include a scarcely believable four-minute hat-trick against Platinum Stars in 2007. Unsurprisingly, the Zambian has become a regular at international level, racking up almost a half-century of caps and representing the Copper Bullets at African Nations Cups in 2006 and the victorious 2012 campaign. Chamanga joined Dalian in 2008, and although he hasn’t been as prolific in China as elsewhere, the African has chipped in with often invaluable strikes.
Shide’s current boss, Esteves’ countryman Nelo Vingada, boasts a lengthy and varied managerial career. Years of experience coaching at club level in Portugal, Egypt, Morroco and Iran are supplemented by spells managing his country and the national sides of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. On paper, at least, Dalian are in safe hands. That’s just as well – the club will need all the help it can get in its most testing season for many years.