Ian Walker on some of his Chinese players: 'Lazy, out of shape and won’t train in the rain'

The goalkeeping coach for Shenhua, gives Paul Newman in Shanghai a damning assessment of some of his players

Ian Walker’s coaching contract at Shanghai Shenhua expires next month, but the former England goalkeeper is not fretting about his future. In the volatile world of the Chinese Super League he has learnt that patience is a virtue.

“Even though the season finishes in three weeks’ time nobody knows what will happen next year,” Walker says. “The coaches have one-year contracts. Mine expires on 30 November. They just leave it to the last minute. Last summer the club said they wanted me to stay another year, but I didn’t hear another word until the last game of the season. Literally as the final whistle blew the general manager said to me: ‘Tomorrow you’ll sign your contract.’ That’s the way it’s done here.”

Walker, 41, has been Shenhua’s goalkeeping coach for the last 18 months, which in itself is quite an achievement. The former Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers player, whose playing career was ended by a back injury, was recruited last year by Nicolas Anelka (the pair had been on Bolton’s books at the same time) in the Frenchman’s brief spell as player-coach of the biggest club in China’s most populous city.

Anelka was in charge for less than two months before being replaced by Sergio Batista, who in turn was succeeded last month by Shen Xiangfu. Ten men have filled Shenhua’s hot seat in the last six years.

Didier Drogba’s brief stay last year told its own story of this unpredictable world. The Ivory Coast striker joined Shenhua on a contract said to have been worth £200,000 a week, but he was soon in a dispute over unpaid wages and left within four months.

Shenhua were the first Chinese club to break free from government control when Zhu Jun, a wealthy and colourful businessman, became their biggest shareholder in 2007. The 47-year-old plays in five-a-side matches at the training ground and picked himself to play alongside Anelka in a friendly last year. When Manchester United came here to play a pre-season match last July there were suggestions that he wanted to partner Drogba in attack.

Walker recalls: “Apparently Didier said: ‘No chance. I won’t be playing if he does that.’ I don’t know whether any of that is true or not. Some people have a go at the president, but he’s put a lot of money into the club and I think people have to respect that. If it wasn’t for him there wouldn’t be a club. He’s been very good to me.”

Walker has clearly been good for Shenhua, too. Wang Dalei, the goalkeeper, was the club’s only representative in the China squad for this week’s Asian Cup qualifier against Indonesia.

Chatting in the lounge of a city-centre hotel before heading off to a training session, Walker seems comfortable with his life here. He lives in the middle of Shanghai with his girlfriend and six-year-old son. The club provide transport to training sessions: the roads are considered so perilous that the coaching staff are told not to drive. The air quality, meanwhile, can be so bad that Walker checks pollution levels before taking his son outside. He has been relieved to find a shop that sells Heinz baked beans, while the cafe at a branch of Marks & Spencer is a popular refuge.

Shenhua, Walker’s employers, are not the force they were 10 years ago, when they were Chinese champions. Guangzhou Evergrande, coached by Marcello Lippi, are currently the country’s strongest club, having signed up most of the national team as well as expensive imports such as the Argentinian Dario Conca. Shandong Luneng, managed by Raddy Antic, are second in the table ahead of Beijing Guoan. Guangzhou R & F have high expectations after the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as head coach.

Walker, who used an interpreter in his first training sessions but now manages without, compares Guangzhou Evergrande’s level of football to the Championship, but says that standards vary wildly. He has found most Chinese players strong mentally but feels some are lazy.

“Sometimes they need a kick up the backside,” he says. “When I first came in the goalkeepers weren’t working hard enough. I get them working hard every day. I’ve told them that’s what they have to get used to. Some of them have said to me they would like to play in Europe. I’ve told them: ‘You should go and see how they train every day.’ They whine and moan a bit about it, but they do it and I think they’ve seen their improvement.”

With matches generally played in the evening, most training sessions are held in late afternoon, especially during the summer, when temperatures can top 40C. “One of the reasons I heard why we train in the afternoon is because Chinese players don’t like training in the morning,” Walker says with a smile. “I don’t think they like getting out of bed.”

He adds: “If it’s raining we train indoors, which is bizarre to me. In England we train outdoors whatever the weather unless there’s a foot of snow which they can’t clear. Now, if it’s raining they say to me: ‘You can take the goalkeepers outside if you want.’ I do that. It’s only a bit of rain, isn’t it?”

Walker says that Chinese football also lags behind in terms of sports science. “As far as nutrition goes I think we have quite a way to go,” he says. “I think the players’ diet needs to be improved a lot. The players eat a lot of rice and not so much protein. I don’t think they get any advice. They pretty well eat what they want.”

Drogba made a huge impact in his short time here. “Our crowds went up from 10,000 to about 25,000,” Walker says. “Everywhere we went he would get standing ovations from opposition fans, which had probably never been heard of here. He played really well. His class was there for everyone to see.

“He’s a great professional. He was really into it in the games. When we drew games that he felt we should have won he went mad at players in the dressing room. Every day in training he would do extra work, working on his free-kicks and things. That rubbed off on the Chinese players a bit. They don’t generally do extra stuff but they did when he was here. And since he left they’ve stopped doing it.”

Crowds have also dropped back to their former levels, while the priority for Shenhua this season has been survival in the top flight – which has been achieved – after they began the campaign with a six-point deduction for corruption. “They decided to hit us with it this season even though it was for something that happened about 10 years ago,” Walker says.

Another club, Tianjin, were also docked points for corruption. “Sometimes referees are brought in from Thailand or Vietnam and sometimes you have to question what’s going on,” Walker says. “When Didier was here he went mad in one of the games. He was saying: ‘You can’t play like this, it’s impossible.’ I think the other team got two penalties which were never penalties. It maybe happens two or three times a season where you think: ‘That’s not right.’

“We played Jiangsu last year at their place. We drew 2-2. They got two penalties. This year we played them there again – drew 2-2, two penalties for them. You look at it and you think: ‘I don’t know.’ But then again it happened once this year for us. Are they just bad referees or is something else going on?”

Despite the frustrations, Walker is hoping to extend his stay. “I’d like to get back to Europe at some point and I’d like to work with a Premier League club at some stage, but I’d definitely like to do one more year here,” he says.

He just might not find out if it will happen until the last kick of the season.

Walking tall: Ian’s career

Born 31 October 1971, Watford

* Club career

1989-2001 Tottenham Hotspur

1990 Oxford United, Ipswich (loans)

2001-05 Leicester City

2005-08 Bolton Wanderers

* Trophies

1990 FA Youth Cup

1999 Worthington Cup

* International career

1996-2004 Four caps for England but only one start

* Walker made 310 appearances for Spurs after joining as a trainee in 1988, winning the Worthington Cup. in 1999 as Spurs beat Leicester 1-0.

* Criticised on his only England start, allowing Gianfranco Zola to score at his near post in a World. Cup qualifier at Wembley in 1997.

* After a brief spell in charge of  Bishop’s Stortford in 2011, Walker moved to Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua.

New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there