Even by Asian standards Shandong Luneng Taishan FC is a relatively young club, with the Chinese giants established in December 1993, just four months ahead of the inception of the Chinese professional league. Despite the late start, the three-time and current Chinese champions are fast making up for lost time, not to mention the club is associated with arguably the world's longest football history. Based in Jinan, the capital city of the historic Shandong Province, the club is a few hours drive from Linzi County, where the earliest form of football, or cuju, is thought to have originated around 200 BC.
Immersed with such histories and traditions, it is no surprise that Shandong is marked by their footballing pedigrees and cultural distinctions, with the club intent on building China's most prestigious team, or "the club of the century", as their slogan states. Shandong's efforts have begun to bear fruit as they have claimed three league and four cup titles over the past 14 years, and this year are competing in the AFC Asian Champions League for the third time in the last five seasons.
Shandong has a strong link with European expertise with their last four coaches dating back to 1999, hailing from either Russia and Serbia. In particular the club owes a debt to the two Serbians who have transformed them from a regional power to the nation's top side. First came Slobodan Santrac who guided Shandong to a surprise league and cup double in his first year at the helm in 1999, achievements which earned him the C-league's "coach of the year" title. The result all the more impressive considering that Shandong had never previously finished in the league's top four.
However, with Santrac moving on the following season to take the reigns of Saudi Arabia, Shandong were left in the doldrums for the ensuing years slipping as low as twelfth in the sixteen-strong league in 2004. The downward spiral eventually brought to a halt with the appointment of another Serb when current coach Ljubisa Tumbakovic took the reigns in the same year.
The former Partizan manager, who is best known for leading the Belgrade giants to six national championship titles, made an immediate impact by guiding Shandong to cup winners and league runners-up in his first season. It then took him only two years to repeat his compatriots feat, coaching the team to their second league and cup double in 2006. After conceding the league title to Changchun Yatai in 2007, Shandong under Tumbakovic staged a powerful comeback to recapture the national laurels last season.
Dubbed the "Chinese Real Madrid" by media and fans, Shandong have seen many talents come through the ranks and develop into top-quality players for both club and country. Topping the list is former midfielder maestro Li Xiaopeng, who figured prominently in Shandong's fairly-tale run to the double in 1999 before captaining the national team to their first and only FIFA World Cup™ appearance at Korea/Japan 2002. Another prominent figure from that generation is former marksman Su Maozhen, who has recently been appointed head coach of the national U-19 side.
Of more recent vintage is Zheng Zhi, who steered Shandong to their second double in 2006 before transferring to English side Charlton FC. Striker Li Jinyu remains a lethal striker spearheading the attacking line, having topped the league's scoring charts on several occasions.
Completed in 1987 and with a capacity of 55,000, the Shandong Provincial Sports Centre Stadium is one of the most modern stadiums in China. Not surprisingly, its top qualities and facilities have seen the stadium chosen for a series of national sports events, including the inaugural China's City Games in 1988. At international level, it was one of the four venues which played hosts to the 2004 AFC Asian Cup.
4 Chinese Super League champions: 1999, 2006, 2008, 2010
4 Chinese FA Cup champions: 1995, 1999, 2004, 2006
1 Chinese Super League Cup champions: 2004
*The honours listed above are considered to be the club’s major titles and, as such, are not intended to be a full list of achievements.