Sergio Batista has held higher-profile positions than his current one, but working in China PR brings its own challenges.
The Shanghai Shenhua coach, who has played for and coached world superpowers Argentina, spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his time in the Far East.
"To be honest, the level of football in China’s top flight is better than I expected," the 49-year-old admitted. "It’s a challenge coaching in China, but this only adds to my motivation, to be honest."
Batista has the kind of credentials that are appealing in China, a footballing nation on the up and developing fast. He won the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ alongside team-mate Diego Maradona before guiding his country to Olympic gold at Beijing 2008. He then went on to coach the full Albiceleste side before joining Shanghai.
"Shanghai came to me with a good plan, which eventually moved me," he explained. "I am satisfied with the club's development plan, so I am confident about my future here. I am lucky to have a good team at my disposal, some of whom are world-class stars."
Batista is speaking, obviously, of Shanghai's attacking duo of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, the two biggest names in the C-League. Joining Shanghai at the start of the current season, Anelka quickly established an influential role, the former French international even taking over as caretaker coach prior to Batista's arrival.
With the Argentinian's official appointment, Anelka's brief tenure in charge was brought to an end. This allowed the striker to focus on his performance on the pitch. Under Batista, he forms the C-League's dream attacking line-up alongside former Chelsea team-mate Drogba, after the Ivorian completed his much-anticipated move in July. Shanghai have remained undefeated in four matches to move up two places to tenth in the 16-team table.
The duo’s influence was best displayed in the previous round when Shanghai recorded a resounding 5-1 home win over Hangzhou Greentown. Drogba struck twice to break his Shanghai duck and Anelka set up the other two in the team’s biggest win of the campaign.
With the side beginning to gel, Batista was quick to pay tribute to his two stars. "Both Drogba and Anelka are world-class players," he said. "They can pass their experience on to the young players. This is an ideal structure for a club, with young legs complementing the old heads."
Having quickly brought the team's campaign back on track, Batista is excited about the tactics he’s using with his star pair. "For me, Anelka is never a centre-forward and he is best suited for a role a little farther back. With Drogba spearheading the attack, Anelka can make more of an impact behind him and fully display his talents. This has been proven correct in recent matches "
As for Drogba, Batista believes the two-time English Premier League top scorer can rediscover his form as soon as he regains his fitness. "He [Drogba] has made an immediate impact with the team. He possesses all the elements to inspire. He can be more of a lethal weapon when he fully returns to his physical peak," Batista concluded, sending a stern warning to the rest of the coaches in China.