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 By Chris Atkins

Sven-Goran Eriksson works his magic to revitalise Shenzhen in China

The ESPN FC crew discuss which players could be heading to China in the summer.
The ESPN FC crew discuss which players could be heading to China in the summer.

Having somewhat rebuilt his managerial career in two Chinese Super League spells with Guangzhou R&F and Shanghai SIPG, it was a surprise to many when former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson was announced as manager of Shenzhen FC at the end of the 2016 season.

Eriksson, in China since 2012, is well-regarded for his work in the country and while there was some disappointment his SIPG side failed to kick on and truly challenge for titles, Shenzhen wasted little time in moving for the Swede once he came available in December.

Since their takeover by the Kaisa property group last year, Shenzhen's ambition to rise up the Chinese football ladder once more has been no secret. However, a much-hyped 2016 season proved a false dawn as a decent start tailed off dramatically late in the campaign.

Having initially brought in Dutch coach Clarence Seedorf in July to oversee that rise, the former AC Milan icon was discarded after a run of just one win in his final 10 games.

Eriksson was quickly identified as his replacement and given a handsome transfer budget to work with, bringing in Chinedu Obasi and $7 million forward Harold Preciado to front his attack.

More importantly, perhaps, he was also able to identify five Chinese players to bring in at considerable expense. Centre-back Cui Min alone cost the club in the region of £10m, while goalkeeper Guan Zhen arrived for around £4.6m with a total transfer spend in excess of £20m.

Given the expectation provoked by such transfer activity, pressure was high heading into the campaign especially with other sides also aiming high in the market.

However, just five games into the season things could not be going any better for Eriksson and his side, having registered a full complement of 15 points.

Having already found the net 18 times, Shenzhen have also set out their stall as the league's most feared attacking side. Colombian Preciado has led the way with eight goals to begin his career in Asia in lightening fashion.

Sven-Goran Eriksson
Sven-Goran Eriksson is enjoying a fine start to the season with Shenzhen.

"As long as we can continue scoring, I'll be happy," a delighted Eriksson told reporters following this weekend's 5-2 victory.

"We have scored 18 goals in just five games and we'll go a long way if we can continue to do this."

With Shenzhen's record winning streak of six games now firmly in their sights, history is already on the verge of being made.

Eriksson, though, is well-aware that only promotion will determine how his season is judged and, perhaps understandably, has therefore been playing down the importance of such achievements.

"Our only aim is to earn promotion," he added. "If we win six or seven in a row I don't care so much."

If there is one negative, it is that not one Chinese player in the side has yet to find the net -- with all 18 goals coming courtesy of Preciado, Obasi and fellow foreign forward Aboubakar Oumarou.

While that is the case, it must also be mentioned that veteran former national team midfielder Xu Liang has registered an impressive seven assists in his five matches to date as he continues to bely his 35 years of age.

According to Eriksson, on current form a 25-year-old version of Xu would have no issue playing in a European league.

Eriksson is wise to the culture of China and such comments are doubtless made in part with his audience in mind. Part of the Swede's popularity -- dating back to his spell as England manager -- has always been his ability to say the right things to the local media and his consistent championing of China's football potential has thus far served him well.

China fans celebrating Yu Dabao's goal against South Korea in the 34th minute.
China fans can look forward to challenging on the world stage, according to Shenzhen boss Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Indeed, in February last year he even tipped China to "compete to win a World Cup within 10-15 years," during an interview with national press agency Xinhua. It may be a bold statement, but it wins him support.

The good feeling around Shenzhen is already having an impact, with attendances having more than doubled this season. This weekend over 21,000 flocked to Shenzhen Sports Stadium to see the team in action and, with seven goals scored, they were well-rewarded as the home side beat Beijing BG 5-2.

Everything appears to be on the up for the club and with a modern city of 12 million people crying out for Super League representation, it is easy to see how they could quickly return to being a major force in the Chinese game.

The club and their new owners are doing all the right things, though, to ensure a quick promotion -- from improving the training ground to giving the coach the financial power needed to bolster the playing squad. Bringing in an assistant coach with vast experience of China League One was also a smart move, with Goran Tomic an important member of the coaching staff.

However, there are many examples of fast starts tailing off dramatically and Eriksson is wise to ensure feet are kept firmly grounded.

Should he take his side up at the first attempt, though, the Swede will once more have shown there are few better at achieving results in China.

Having arrived in the Far East at a low point in a previously illustrious career, it is China which has proved Eriksson's redemption. At Shenzhen, he is already working his magic once more.

Chris Atkins is based in China and writes for ESPN FC about the Chinese Super League. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisAtkins_.

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