By sportswriter Michael Place
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Brazilian playmaker Ricardo Goulart is adamant that Guangzhou Evergrande can continue their dominance of the Chinese Super League in 2018, despite the loss of the club's two biggest names.
Evergrande have already had some time to get used to the absence of midfielder Paulinho, whose move to Barcelona last August prompted a late-season wobble before they steadied to win their seventh straight Chinese Super League title.
The Southern China Tigers are now preparing for a new season without coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, whose three seasons at Guangzhou delivered three league titles as well as the Asian Champions League trophy and the Chinese FA Cup.
In his place is Italy World Cup winner and Ballon D'Or recipient Fabio Cannavaro, appointed Guangzhou coach for a second time last November.
"Pre-season training has just started and (Cannavaro) is only just beginning to imprint his style, but the first impressions have been very positive," Goulart, who is entering his fourth season at Evergrande, told Brazil's Globo Esporte.
"We are excited at the prospect of another great season. We've had a very solid foundation in recent years which is the result of continuity and hard work.
"We've had great players like Paulinho and thankfully we are staying strong due to the base and the philosophy that we have," added the 26-year-old, who also played under Cannavaro before the Italian was replaced by Scolari in June 2015.
Goulart has been a crucial part of the Guangzhou's success since joining the club from Cruzeiro for 18 million euros in January 2015.
In that time he has scored 78 goals in 123 matches across all competitions and was voted the Chinese Super League's best player in 2015 and 2016.
Despite Brazilian media reports linking him with a return to his homeland, Goulart said he has no plans to leave Guangzhou before his contract expires in 2019.
"I have a contract here with the Guangzhou. I'm happy and looking forward to having another great season here," he said.
He did, however, admit that a move to Europe remains one of his career ambitions.
"Playing for a club in a football heartland like Europe is the goal of any player, and mine is no different," he said. "But right now I have a contract here and I will continue to do my best for my club.
"I have adapted well to the city and the country. We don't know what will happen in the future but I try to focus on doing my best and let things take their course."
Capped once for Brazil's national team, Goulart has also not given up hope of earning another chance at international level.
But for now, his focus is on helping Guangzhou Evergrande continue their golden run in a league that he says is stronger by the year.
"Last season we had a hard time despite eventually being champions," he said. "There are several big-name players at other clubs and it is increasingly competitive. It's going to be an exciting season."