If you bump into a Chinese football fan and ask them to name the most famous club in the world's most populous country, the answer on most lips will be Dalian Haichang, formerly known as Dalian Shide. And despite the club's slump in recent years, which sees them currently languishing at fourth from bottom in the 16-team Chinese Super League, they boast a proud record at both domestic and continental level.
Given the relatively short history of the Chinese league, which commenced only in 1994, Dalian have done amazingly well to have had their name carved on the trophy a record eight times. They won the Chinese First Division seven times in the first ten seasons, before going on to recapture the title in 2005, the second year after the league had been transformed into the Chinese Super League. FIFA.com takes a look at the club's past and present.
Ever since the game took root in the country a century ago, the picturesque coastal city of Dalian has become renowned for its production line of football stars. Thus it came as no surprise that the city was home to one of China's first clubs in July 1992, when the nation was striving to launch its first professional league.
The league, known as "Jia A", provided a launch pad for Dalian, who emerged as inaugural winners in 1994 under Zhang Honggen. But the second season saw them edged out by Shanghai Shenhua, who were to become their arch-rivals.
This disappointment resulted in a managerial switch, with former national captain Chi Shangbin stepping in. Then came the golden era in the club's history, in which they stayed undefeated for 55 matches, winning the league in 1996 and 1997 under Chi, before completing a hat trick of titles in 1998 under Xu Genbao.
Shandong Luneng had their turn as champions in 1999, but Dalian rallied under Serbian coach Milorad Kosanovic, who took the team to three straight league victories in the new millennium, including an enviable league and cup double in 2001.
With the old generation hanging up their boots, a host of young talents have been emerging. The core of the new Dalian side is formed by striker Zhu Ting, midfielder Zhao Xuri and defender Feng Xiaoting, a promising trio who have all figured prominently for club and country.
Despite its ample stock of young talent, lack of experience has taken its toll as Dalian have disappointed their fans in recent years; their last piece of silverware came in 2005, when they won the Super League under Vladimir Petrovic. In a bid to revive the club's fortunes, the team's erstwhile coach Kosanovic was recently given the reins again, with the task of winning back the league title in 1-2 years.
Club general manager Li Ming, himself among the finest players ever produced by Dalian, told FIFA.com about the club's ambitions. "With young players coming of age, we are not only targeting the top teams in the domestic league, but also aiming to break new ground for Chinese teams in Asian competition."