Fabio Cannavaro struggling in second stint with Guangzhou Evergrande in CSL
Perhaps Luiz Felipe Scolari could see the writing on the wall as he made his exit from Guangzhou Evergrande last November after two-and-a-half trophy-filled seasons.
After building on the legacy of predecessors Lee Jang-soo and Marcello Lippi to make Guangzhou the most successful club ever in China, the Brazilian no doubt knew troubled times lay ahead. Despite guiding the club to three league titles, the Asian Champions League crown in 2015 and the Chinese FA Cup a year later, the signs Guangzhou's years of dominance were coming to an end had already started to appear.
With few attempts to refresh the core group of players who had been key to attaining that position of superiority and a recruitment strategy that allowed Paulinho to leave for Barcelona without an adequate replacement, Evergrande were always likely to experience a bumpy ride this season.
In isolation, sitting fifth in the table, five points adrift of leaders Shanghai SIPG after 11 games, would be no reason to panic. But coupled with an Asian Champions League exit at the hands of Tianjian Quanjian and being knocked out of the Chinese FA Cup by Guizhou Zhicheng, it means alarm bells are ringing loud at Tianhe Stadium.
The reasons for the unease are many. Fabio Cannavaro has failed to convince so far in his second stint as head coach and, after lasting only six months the first time around, speculation is growing that the Italian's days could be numbered.
Club owner Xu Jiayin has already started making noise in the press about a squad clear-out over the two-month World Cup hiatus, and Cannavaro -- perhaps ominously for the Italian -- admitted he was unaware changes could lie ahead.
"I haven't received any instructions to adjust our roster," the former Real Madrid and Juventus defender said after Sunday's 2-0 loss to newly promoted Guizhou Renhe. "But if it is the president's order, we have to follow. Let's see. We had foreseen the difficulties before the season, but hadn't expected it to this level. This break is critical for us now. We should take advantage of it."
Meantime, the old guard are starting to show the signs of wear and tear.
Captain Zheng Zhi turns 38 in August and has started just seven of the 20 games Evergrande have played in all competitions this season. Key midfielder Huang Bowen is no longer the force of old, and central defender Feng Xiaoting, arguably the player of the year last season, has lacked consistency.
Young players acquired by Guangzhou to ensure the club could refresh the side -- Deng Hanwen, Yang Liyu and Tang Shi -- have yet to impress, while the much-vaunted Evergrande academy is not yet supplying quality players in the quantities required to ease the burden.
Add to that an eight-game ban handed to Alan Carvalho in March for throwing an elbow at Liu Yiming during Evergrande's 1-0 league win over Tianjin Quanjian, and Ricardo Goulart's reported dissatisfaction at not being allowed to return home to play in Brazil, and the mood could hardly be described as positive.
In the past Evergrande would have spent their way out of trouble, but Chinese Football Association regulations brought in last year that limit the amount clubs can spend on both foreign and domestic transfers has meant little of the €40 million earned from Paulinho's sale has been reinvested into in players of a similar calibre.
Cannavaro, meanwhile, is trying to put a brave face on the situation, even as he admitted that some of the team's shortcomings may lie in his inadequacies as a coach.
"I have confidence in my players," he said after the Renhe game. "They are outstanding. They have been winning through the years and it is not unacceptable that they have their downs. The crucial problem is with the mind. It would be a quality issue if we weren't generating enough chances, but we have created lots of opportunities. We ran a lot and we shot a lot. It is a psychological thing that we can't score.
"What made me anxious is that they all backed me up and have been very supportive, they all followed my tactical instructions, but the outcome was not ideal. This is the toughest part."
Cannavaro was re-hired after a successful 18 months with Tianjin Quanjian with the intention he'd lead the team into an era where Evergrande would challenge for the Chinese Super League title from 2020 with an all-Chinese team taken largely from their own academy.
But after such an inauspicious start to his second stint at the club, the question at the moment is whether Cannavaro can survive the summer.
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch