by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Compared with all other coaches who sit courtside, he has one major advantage over all other mentors.
In the guise of Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin and Zhang Jike, he has the very best players in the world at his disposal.
However, it means that Liu Guoliang is always under immense pressure not only to produce victory but to realise that success without blemish. In 2016 at the major tournaments, when his elite players were in action, he came within an ace of the perfect record. There was just one hiccup; in the final of the Men’s Team event in Rio de Janeiro, Xu Xin lost to Jun Mizutani.
If you did not know better, the reaction of Jun Mizutani after securing the final point against Xu Xin suggested that the gold medal had been secured; such is the level achieved in the current era by China, such is the level that Liu Guoliang has consistently maintained in his players.
Although it is no doubt a dream for any coach to have the best players in the world at your disposal, there can be no unexpected wins; any defeat is contrary to expectations.
It does place a certain burden on the shoulders of Liu Guoliang.
Well maybe not the shoulders, more precisely the left foot; when Liu Guoliang is feeling pressure look at his left foot as he sits watching his players in action, it never stops twitching.
In Rio de Janeiro it was beating 60 to the minute; he felt the pressure and that was witnessed in his reaction to success. The response was far greater than on any other stage; Olympic gold was of paramount importance; when victory was secured, a release valve exploded in the chest of Liu Guoliang.
An advantage having the best players in the team; also does Liu Guoliang have one more advantage?
The fact that he has been Olympic champion, World champion, winner of the Men’s World Cup plus a host of other titles to his credit gives him a bank of first-hand knowledge witnessed by a precious few. He knows what it is like to compete in the biggest final of all; that experience is invaluable when advising players.
Also, it brings him instant respect; all Chinese players are well versed in the history of the sport. Ma Long, Fan Zhendong, Xu Xin, Zhang Jike et al, all clearly have the utmost respect for Liu Guoliang; watch them when he gives advice between games, they hang on his every syllable.
Every syllable is enunciated clearly, just look at the intensity on the face of Liu Guoliang when he speaks to his players between games. It is clear that he wants his player to win and is that not exactly what the player wants; to know someone in the hall wants you to win.
Player or coach, Liu Guoliang is a winner; the record endorses the fact.
Coach of the Year will be decided by a panel of experts but you can still vote for Male Player of the Year, Female Player of the Year and the Star Point.
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