SHANGHAI, China, May 11 – Chinese Super League (CSL) side Tianjin Tianhai, once home to Brazilian star Alexandre Pato and formerly coached by Fabio Cannavaro, have effectively folded after teetering on the brink for months.
At least a dozen clubs in China’s top three tiers of professional football have gone under in the last six months, but Tianjin are the first from the CSL.
The team from China’s northeast, who were reportedly saddled with heavy debts, are set to be replaced in the top division by Roberto Donadoni’s Shenzhen FC.
Tianjin on Monday submitted an application to withdraw from the CSL for the forthcoming season, Beijing News and other state media said.
“Tianhai drama ends!” said the newspaper.
The new CSL campaign was supposed to begin on February 22 but was indefinitely postponed by the coronavirus pandemic. The league could now start in late June.
It has been a swift fall from grace for Tianjin.
Then called Tianjin Quanjian, they qualified for the AFC Champions League in coming third in the CSL in 2017 under Italian World Cup-winning captain Cannavaro.
They had spent heavily in bringing in former AC Milan starlet Pato, Belgian international midfielder Axel Witsel and French striker Anthony Modeste.
They were also strongly linked with then-Chelsea striker Diego Costa.
However, Quanjian Group’s founder was arrested in January last year and the club was transferred to the local sports bureau and renamed Tianjin Tianhai.
The club’s fans thought they had been saved when Vantone stepped in to take over in March.
However, the Beijing News said that negotiations with the real-estate investment company broke down.
Tianjin just about survived relegation last season, coming four points above Shenzhen and condemning Donadoni’s side to the drop.