With Bcheng still out of the country touring the States, ‘s Kenneth joins the editor for this week’s Pub Talk. The Chinese Super League summer break is underway at the moment, so the pair take the chance to have a general chat about their side’s seasons so far. So this week, Nanjing-based Kenneth waxes lyrical about Jiangsu Sainty’s recent form – something which in stark contrast to Shenhua’s fortunes of late, as the editor duly laments. However, he takes the chance to remind the Nanjing correspondent about THAT game, even although Duvier Riascos has left Shenhua now. There’s also time for the pair to shift their gaze to the Women’s World Cup, as Kenneth admits to being mesmerized by an American goalkeeper, and the editor inquires as to what the US squad has got upfront.
Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua): Ok Kenneth, welcome to Pub Talk!
Kenneth (Jiangsu Sainty): Thanks for having me! I’m happy to be here, but I’m a little nervious that I might be exposed as the ignorant foreigner I truly am.
S: That makes two of us – and it would three if Bcheng was here. So don’t worry! So, we’ve all been enjoying your reports on Jiangsu Sainty this season so far. With the season now at the half way point, how has the year been so far for Sainty?
K: The season started off about as bad as it could possibly be. I think one point in six matches? After that we fired the coach and got our current coach, Dragan Okuka. Since then things have been much better. We’re currently on a five match home win streak. Unfortunately I know Shanghai hasn’t been sharing Jiangsu’s good fortune as of late. What are your thoughts about their recent form?
S: I’m not afraid to stick the boot into Shenhua when they deserve it, as I think my write-ups show. But the haven’t had the breaks recently.
K: You definitely tell it how it is. I remember hearing that Shanghai would be losing one of their top foreign players in the summer. Has that happened already? If so, is that one of the reasons for the disappointing performances?
S: Yeah, Duvier Riascos has completed his loan spell, he’s signed for a club in Mexico I believe. He was the Chinese Super League top scorer last year with 20 goals. This year, his performances weren’t quite so good. But you may remember a certain last-minute goal on your visit to Hongkou earlier this season….
K: Ouch, you had to go there didn’t you? I think that 90th minute “dagger-in-the-heart” goal scored by Riascos had more to do with the Jiangsu keeper, Guan Zhen, going out all the way to the sideline. He hasn’t played a single minute since that costly mistake, but he was still called up to the Chinese National team for the match against Laos next week.
S: Really? Sainty has quite a few players in the national squad. Surprising as they are usually in the bottom half of the Chinese Super League.
K: Jiangsu does have some talented players, but until recently they hadn’t been able to put out a solid team effort.
S: So what’s changed? New boss turned the team around?
K: I’d say so. We always had the right pieces but the individual players weren’t living up to their potential. Since hiring our new coach players like Brazilian defender Eleílson and Romanian striker Cristian Dănălache have really improved. I think Dănălache is up to six goals this season for Jiangsu.
S: I noticed your lads really have made a push up the league. Do you think they can keep it going and maybe even get a ACL place?
K: I think even the most optimistic Jiangsu fans aren’t even thinking of the ACL. Maybe next season, but not this year. We need to find a way to get more points on the road before we can finish in the top three. If Jiangsu finishes in the top half of the league I’ll be happy. Aren’t low expectations nice?
S: Yes. Although Shenhua fan’s expectations are getting lower by the week. So lets talk more about your involvement with the Jiangsu fan’s group. How did you first get to know them?
K: I first got to know them back in 2009 when I attended my first Jiangsu game in Nanjing. In my hometown I’m an active member in the local supporters group, Emerald City Supporters. I knew I wanted to be part of the supporters here, so my first match I just stood with them and started singing and chanting along. I’ve gotten to know some of the leaders of the group over the years, all great guys.
S: When I was in Nanjing for Shenhua’s visit last year, there was a lot of shenanigans at the end of the game, Sainty fans tried to storm the away end. I hope you weren’t involved in such rowdy behaviour Kenneth.
K: I was right in the middle of the chaos, but only as an observer. Violence has no place at soccer matches. Even if it is against Shanghai!
S: Yes, its fun indeed to observe. Some occasional fisticuffs I think has to be expected when rival fans meet. As long as no-one is seriously hurt, I think its not something which deserves the media hysteria.
K: I’d have to agree with you, altough if China fails to knock off Laos this week in the world cup qualifying we could be in for some more riots.
S: Yeah. I think the entire Chinese footballing world is shitting its pants as we speak. I mean, defeat to Laos would surely be the ultimate humiliation.
K: And I thought it couldn’t get any worse after losing to Oman in 2012 Olympic qualifying last month
S: Well that was just the under-23. I think China takes it a bit too seriously. Sure, it was a really bad result. But, its not the senior team, all sorts of weird results happen at youth level which would not happen at senior.
K: That’s true. For anybody that watched the second leg in Oman where China lost in extra time, you know China would have won that game if it wasn’t for an absolutely horrible call by the linesman
S: That’s right. Bad refereeing seems to buzz around China like you know what.
K: It could be worse, they could use some of the refs from the Women’s World Cup. Did you see that video of the defender who literally picked up the ball with her hands without any punishment?
S: I didn’t. I hate to say this. But I just don’t find women’s football exciting at all. No point pretending I like it, I suppose
K: If it’s not your cup of tea I can’t blame you for it, but I’ve got to say the USA-Brazil match was intense. I haven’t been so emotionally involved in a sporting event for a long time.
S: Really? Sounds like you eyeing up the chicks asses or something.
K: I’m mostly keeping my eyes out for the US Keeper, Hope Solo. She’s a bombshell
S: Sounds like I’m missing out. What’s the USA’s front pair like?
K: I’ve got to be honest I’m not too good with the names. Hope Solo is from my state so she’s kind of a living legend where I’m from. Abby Wambach had a great tournament, scoring four goals. And by asking what the front pair are like I assumed you meant how the strikers performed, but if that was some kind of sexual joke, I missed it, lol.
S: Sexual jokes in Pub Talk? Of course not…. Ok so moving swiftly on to one last topic I think – our site got mentioned in the Chinese football sports press and we got a pretty huge surge of hits. I read most of the commentary on the Chinese web BBSs and what not, the general tone was one of amazement that some foreigners would write about the Chinese Super League. What do you think about that?
K: I don’t understand why people are fascinated by the fact that some foreigners actually like the Chinese Super League. Do they expect us to all be AC Milan or Manchester United fans? I don’t know about you, but watching a live match sure beats watching a game thousands of miles away on TV or the internet.
S: I couldn’t agree more. I don’t see why its such a big deal. I can understand people finding it interesting. But, I don’ t think its worthy of sheer amazement. I mean, its just football man. Only in China could you attract so much attention simply by walking into a stadium to watch a bloody game.
K: And like I’ve said before, in 20-years when the Chinese Super League is huge we can proudly boast that we followed the league during it’s dark ages
S: Absolutely! And now we have to prove it!
K: Excellent! Well, I think this about wraps up my first pub talk. How’d I do?
S: You’ve obviously been talking football in pubs all your life. Thanks Kenneth – next time we can get our man from the north, Bcheng, to join in the banter.
K: Great, I’m looking forward to it!
S: Thanks Kenneth. Enjoy your weekend!
K: You too! Talk to you next week.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015