French striker Nicolas Anelka will become a "player-coach" at Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua, the club said on Thursday while insisting French head coach Jean Tigana remained on board.
A Shenhua official confirmed reports they had sacked three assistant coaches after winning only two of their five matches so far this season, but said Tigana was still in his position following speculation he would also be axed.
"We fired the assistant coaches. Tigana is still the coach of the team," the official, who declined to be named, told AFP. "Anelka is now on the coaching team."
In a statement, Shenhua named Anelka as player-coach and said the shake-up of coaching staff followed a failure by the club to live up to expectations and problems with the quality of training.
"Nicolas Anelka from this day will have the status of player-coach, participating in management of the team's daily training," said the statement on the club's website. No mention was made of Tigana.
The former Arsenal and Chelsea player, the most high-profile foreign footballer to sign for the Chinese league, joined Shenhua in January amid hopes he could boost performances at the club, which finished in the bottom half of the table last season.
Anelka, who is also team captain, said the change in coaching staff marked a "new beginning" for the team.
"Being a coach and being a player are different, but I will have a better connection with my teammates on the field," Internet portal Sina quoted him as telling a news conference, which foreign media were not allowed to attend.
"I hope I can lead the team to success in tomorrow's game," he said. Shenhua play the Tianjin Teda club on Friday.
Anelka told Chinese journalists winning the league championship would be difficult though still possible, but he urged his teammates to focus on the next match.
"We must from the next match... start winning games, slowly getting used to victory," he said of the team who are languishing in the bottom half of the table.
Tigana was not present at the news conference. A Shenhua official explained his absence by saying he was reporting to club management, Sina said.
But Chinese football fans speculated he might be sacked or resign.
"A bold prediction: Tigana will become the first coach to be fired this season. Of course, he might take the initiative and resign," one anonymous fan said in a blog posting.
The Oriental Sports Daily said the club had sacked three assistant coaches brought on board by Tigana and hired four new ones as replacements.
The new assistant coaches were two French nationals, Alioune Kissima Toure and Jean-Florent Ikwange Ibenge, the newspaper said.
Two Britons also joined the staff - former Birmingham City fitness coach Dan Harris and former England goalkeeper Ian Walker, it said.
Tigana, the former Fulham and Monaco boss, joined Shenhua as the club sought out more foreign talent. At a news conference in December shortly after his arrival, Tigana called on fans and staff to support him.
"I will do the maximum, but alone you cannot win. I need the whole club to be behind me to have this winning mentality," he said.
Tigana played alongside French football great Michel Platini for the national side and went on to coach at Lyon, Monaco, Fulham and Besiktas. He quit his job at Bordeaux in France in May last year after a disappointing run of results.