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Friday, December 31, 1999, updated at 10:47(GMT+8)
Sports Chinese Soccer Seized by Yugoslavian Craze

Gone are Englishman Bobby Houghton, Brazilian Lazaroni and South Korean Che Bum Kun. Having stayed or are coming are a contingent of Yugoslavians.

Among those from the Balkan country are Milorad Kosanovic, Slobodan Santrac, Ljupko Petrovic, Milovan Djoric and Miloljub Ostojic.

Houghton's failure to lead China's national under-23 side through the Asian Olympic qualifiers spelled the end of his high- profile stint with the national coaching post.

And it dawned on both Lazaroni and Che that their glamorous records would turn out nothing if their philosophy was not adapted to the conditions of local clubs.

Chinese soccer seemed to be an uncompromising Waterloo for foreign coaches.

The only exception was Santrac who recently celebrated his first season in China with a double success, in both the First Division League title and the Chinese Football Association (CFA) Cup.

But Santrac, who resigned from the Yugoslavian national team after last year's World Cup, brought about more than a historic glory for China's Shandong Luneng Club in taking for the first time the country's pro soccer League.

The impressive feat he achieved in his debut season in China was so persuasive that some Chinese clubs became all the more steadfast in belief that Yugoslavians might be the very choice for Chinese soccer.

Kosanovic signed former League champions Dalian Wanda although he failed to keep the lowly Wuhan Heart K from being delegated this season.

Guo'an also opened its arms to Djoric as well as his assistants -- Milos Miljanic and Milovan Rajevac.

Qingdao Hainiu went with the fashion by signing Miloljub Ostojic along with his assistants Branislav Jovannov and Branko Vojinovic.

The Yugoslavian craze might be capped by Bora Milutinovic who is rumored to take, currently as the only contender, the post of national head coach left vacant since Houghton left.

The selling point of the Yugoslavian, nicknamed "Miracle Coach", was his track record as the only coach to take four different teams into the second round of World Cup finals, which has long been a far cry for soccer-crazy Chinese.

But the flux of Yugoslavian coaches have received cautious greetings from the Chinese media and officials who witnessed the ups and downs in China of foreign coaches.

Lang Xiaonong, director of the CFA's competition department, admitted the popularity with Yugoslavians was mostly caused by the success of Santrac, the first foreign coach to mastermind a Chinese club to win the League title.

"His success drew more attention to Yugoslavians. Many local coaches held that the Yugoslavians are more suitable to China.

"And they have more in common with Chinese in terms of ideology and ways of thinking, which make themselves much easier to adapt to the local situation.

"The clubs of course make choices in line with their interests. But the rightness of their choices will be put to test in the future, through the League competitions," Lang added.

While the sharp-tongued media might thinks the other way. The China Sports Daily, for example, warned that a variety of coaching styles are necessary for China, a country with vast area and varied conditions.

Another Chinese sports daily Sports Express pointed out that Chinese soccer has been hesitant in adopting any new playing style after the aggressive South Koreans and flamboyant Brazilians went from a once domination in domestic competition to nowhere.

The paper criticized clubs' unwise judgment of such a "fashion" when they turn a blind eye to what they most need.

But Beijing-based Guo'an, who has announced the appointment of Djoric as their head coach, thinks different way. "We did it in light of our own situation and we did as the law of soccer demands. We have cherished the idea of employing Yugoslavian coaches long before the so-called fashion took shape," said club manager Zhang Lu.

The Yugoslavians also showed their confidence in proving to be competent. "Though successful, Santrac will not exert pressure on me. Instead I feel encouraged," said Djoric. "With Kosanovic in Dalian, Santrac in Shandong and Petrovic in Shanghai Shenhua, a real competition will soon kick off," he added.

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