Guangzhou Evergrande have instructed under pressure head coach Fabio Cannavaro to take a mini-sabbatical and attend a corporate culture training course at the Chinese club's parent company.
The powerhouse still sits on top of the Chinese Super League with three games remaining but after just one win in the last five games, Guangzhou's lead has shrunk from seven points to just one with Shanghai SIPG in close pursuit. To increase the heat on the 2006 World Cup-winning captain, Guangzhou crashed out of the AFC Champions League at the semifinal stage on Wednesday, losing 3-0 on aggregate to Urawa Reds of Japan and failing in a bid to become the first team to win the continental competition three times.
"Head coach Cannavaro will attend the Evergrande Corporate Culture Class at the company's headquarters on Oct. 28, 2019," Guangzhou announced on the club's homepage on Sunday, immediately following a 2-2 draw with Henan Jianye.
The statement added that veteran midfielder Zheng Zhi will take over head-coaching duties for the period while Cannavaro is away.
It is not yet known how long the Italian will attend the sessions in the neighbouring city of Shenzhen, but there is a four-week respite before Guangzhou's next league game, a crucial clash against second-placed Shanghai on Nov. 23.
Chinese media has been speculating as to what the 46-year-old will study with the core values of Evergrande, a conglomerate that made most of its money in real estate and took over the club in 2010, listed as "hard work, dedication, meticulous planning and a pioneering and enterprising spirit."
Cannavaro, who did not attend the post-match news conference and also refused to comment on the decision as he exited the stadium, will know that being top of the league does not necessarily mean that his job is safe.
After succeeding Marcello Lippi as Guangzhou head coach in late 2014, he was fired after seven months despite Guangzhou leading the standings with the club explaining that it wanted to try a more Brazilian style of football by hiring Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Reinstated in November 2017 to succeed Scolari, Cannavaro then took Guangzhou to second in his first season in charge in 2018, the club's first failure to win the Chinese title since 2010.