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Pub Talk: Guoan to float, Shenhua sinking further

In their regular Pub Talk feature, Bcheng and the editor meet for a virtual beer to ponder the mysteries of the Chinese football universe. This week, the Chinese Super League takes a break as the Chinese national team prepare for the next round of World Cup qualifiers, so the pair focus their attention on that, in particular, the return of veteran Li “Datou” Weifeng to the international squad. There’s still time to look back at last weekend’s Chinese Super League action though, as the editor again laments the continuing embarassment of Shenhua’s record-breaking run of defeats, its foolish owner, and paucity of talent on the field. Bcheng is upbeat however, as Guoan seemingly will list on the HK  stock exchange and bring monies to compete with Guangzhou. Meanwhile, with nothing going on this weekend Chinese Super League-wise, the pair head home from the pub a bit early this week to make up for the over-indulgence of previous pub sessions…

Bcheng (Beijing Guoan): So…..another day in the pub, what’s on your mind this week?

Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua) I’m scanning the horizon for pink farm animals with snouts, curly tails and trotters flying accross Shanghai’s skies. Because I believe once I spot one of those, a Shenhua victory will no doubt follow.

B: Will a new coach and three weeks of practice time help get things on track?

S: I sincerely hope that this latest mini-break gives Shenhua some time to re-group, as I said in my post the other day. There are signs of improvement, fairly clear ones at that, but, the results speak for themselves. Besek lost his opening three games in charge. Not the best introduction to the Shenhua hotseat.

B: Probably not likely he’ll get the job full time. So was it only a money issue that kept Shenhua from going for Blazevic?

S: I don’t know. I was just speculating. Blazevic did have a good bond with the fans, in much the same way Pacheco does with you guys. Since Blazevic is out of work, and was talking about how much he liked Shanghai in the press, it seems the size of Zhu Jun’s wallet is in inverse proportion to the size of his ego once again, in terms of why he brought back Blazevic’s number two instead of Ciro himself.

B: Are there rumors of bad blood perhaps that Blazevic ditched Shenhua for the Olympic side?

S: I didn’t hear that, although it could be the case. Blazevic was meant to stay for two years at least, as far as I understand. But this is a big problem for Shenhua, and I think some other clubs. Foreign coaches and players only stay for a year or so. That’s not really of much benefit to Chinese football at the end of the day.

B: The players might not even make it to a year, but I agree about the managers. Will be interesting to see how long Pacheco lasts in Beijing, if Troussier can make it past this season in Shenzhen too. I will, at some point, have interviews with the players and one thing I raelly am interested in knowing is if the Chinese Super League does prepare these guys at all, tell them the rules, tell them what is and isn’t kosher. I think some of the punishments handed down or some of the behind the scenes bullshit drive players (and coaches) away.

S: That’s something I think all pub-goers would like to know. I remember Shenhua signed Mark Milligan and that Belarussian midfielder Hleb on multiple year contracts back in 2009… but both still ended up staying for just a year despite being quality players.Milligan joined some J-League division 2 team.

B: I think there are a number of elements, because there are those foreigners that stay for awhile, Darko Matic is in his 3rd season for Guoan and before that he was with Tianjin. He might be an exception, but there are more than a few. I think it also matters whether you come with an open mind or not.

S: Yeah I notice there are a few who do stay. Some even make their career in the Chinese Super League – Luis Ramirez at Hangzhou is a good example. I think Shandong’s boss, and the Lebanese midfielder, Antar, have been there a few years now, no?

B: Shandong’s boss was there…He walked a few months back, now their new manager (his assistant) has been struggling

S: Right. On the subject of foreign players, something I spotted in the Chinese sports press, apparently someone grassed up Shenhua to the local authorities because their new Colombian Loboa didn’t have the correct work permit, and this caused Shenhua some trouble. A boardroom member was quoted in this report  as saying he was totally puzzled as to why someone would take the time to daub in Shenhua, and that it showed there were people out there who had it in for the club.

B: It’s not just you guys, I think Pacheco even had to go back to Portugal during the last break to clear up a visa issue

S: It’s all rather strange. The tentacles of bureaucracy reach far and wide in China.

B: I think Camacho was even delayed arriving because of visa issues, which is just shocking, the national team coach’s visa couldn’t be fast tracked or something?!?

S: It confirms what we all know. Bureaucrats are just frustrated megalomaniacs. So what’s happening in the capital at the moment?

B: Well, the big talk is non-Chinese Super League related, it’s regarding the rumor that Guoan will be the first Chinese Super League club to be publicly listed.

S: It’s all bad.I think all clubs should be owned by the fans. Shareholders invest to make money, not to enrich people’s lives and local culture through this wonderful sport. That’s idealistic I know, but that’s how I feel.

B: I’m not so negative about this decision. For one, at least in theory this will give the fans the chance to buy a stake in their club, if only a small piece. Secondly, it could be a way for a non-real estate backed club to get the money it needs to compete. Finally, listing will require them to at least somewhat open the books, so we’ll get a better understanding of how these clubs operate.

S: There are potentially some positive outcomes, but I don’t believe China is transparent enough for any of them to be realized.

B: Well, if as proposed they are listed in Hong Kong, there will be legal obligations for transparent (or at least slightly more open) books.

S: In my last job I worked covering news on a large Chinese industrial company which was listed on the HK stock exchange. They only put the bare minimum of information on there, and at least on one occasion, I know for a fact they did not release information which shareholders had a right to know about.

B: Haha, yeah, the HK stock market is only a slight upgrade from the mainland.

S: So when is this going to go through? Do you think it will make a serious difference to Guoan’s chances?

B: It appears likely to happen within the next 6 months. I have no idea how much difference it will make, my thinking is that it won’t change things very much. I think us qualifying for the Champions League and getting a payout from BBVA will make a greater difference in more funds for transfers.


B: Yes, I’m guessing it came out of our deal with Real Madrid, or maybe our matches against Barcelona? In any case, the club signed a deal with the major spanish bank BBVA, for all our international matches, whether ACL or friendly, they will serve as our kit sponsor.

S: So everyone up there already looking towards next season, it seems.

B: Well, there isn’t much to concentrate on this season. It’s going to be a really difficult few weeks in September and then a few weeks in October, but beyond the CFA Cup, I think most fans aren’t too worried about qualifying for the Champions League. That’s not to say we have easy matches, but as long as we win the home ones, win the away ones we should (like at Shenzhen), and then come up with draws against Tianjin and/or Shandong, we should limp into Asia.

S: You guys are solid bet for the ACL. Shenhua on the other hand will be doing well to finish in the top half of the table.

B: Yeah, I honestly can’t see that happening right now, you’re 6 points away.

S: We are allegedly in for José Luis Villanueva next season.

B: To be honest, not so familiar with him, but I’m guessing he’d be a good pickup if its in the foreign news.

S: He played 12 games for Tianjin a couple of years back, scored two goals. Hardly impressive. But sounds about right for the kind of low calibre, waste-of-a-Chinese-player’s-space, foreign player Shenhua go for these days.

B: Bitter much?

S: Hahaha. Guilty as charged. There is a serious point though. Against Shandong a couple of weeks back, we didn’t even have a single fit striker. Yet Dong Xuesheng is out on loan to Shenzhen and scored a hattrick for them last weekend. So, who is making the decisions as to who stays and who goes at Shenhua? I can only imagine its Zhu Jun. And he is someone who clearly knows absolutely fuck-all about football.

B: Well, I don’t think they realized they were going to lose Riascos when they did, though not sure when Dong was loaned out. Definitely some sad times in Shanghai these days, this side is historically bad.

S: I think Riascos was always likely to leave during the summer break, all clubs have ups and down’s but Shenhua’s are being compounded by bad management. You don’t loan out your strikers when you know you are going to lose your star forward. Who knows why that happened. Loboa, the new foreign player, is listed as a striker on Shenua’s squad page. But Wikipedia says hes a fullback or midfielder. He’s not had much time so far, but looks unimpressive.

B: I almost feel sorry for you lot. We’ll have a chance to talk about the national team next Thursday before their match on Friday, but any thoughts on Camacho’s first squad? Singapore isn’t taking any chances, arriving in Kunming today to get acclimated.

S: Yes. Not sure why Feng Renliang has been called up. Like everything else connected with Shenhua, he’s gone to pot. Maybe though he can grab the chance to shine in a different environment and return to Shenhua reinvigorated.

B: He hasn’t looked good for the national team this year, I would be surprised if he sees a lot of playing time. There have been some interesting callups, two from Tianjin in particular with Yu Dabao and especially Li Weifeng returning to the national team.

S: Li Weifeng is a class act. He has the attitude, confidence and aggression that is totally missing in most Chinese players.

B: Datou and class, two words I haven’t heard together in a long time. But I think you are right, I like the decision, no matter his age, he’s still better than Du Wei and he’ll be a force in the locker room, able to help the unfamiliar Camacho.

S: Du Wei is average. He never lived up to his potential. I really like Datou, I wish he had stayed at Shenhua. He may be a bit of a loose cannon, but his experience and drive I think are unmatched elsewhere in the squad.

B: Right, and I don’t think he’s that bad when it comes to a “loose cannon”. That sort of spirit and desire, like you said, is exactly what China is missing, you need a guy living on the edge.

S: Chinese national squad selection always seems a bit bizarre to me. You have guys from the China League getting a look in from time to time, and then people, like Shenhua’s Chen Liang, making their debut at the age of 32. How odd.

B: Yes, well, the China League has only happened with one or two players who went straight to the Chinese Super League the next year. But yeah, I’ve been surprised how coaches tend to avoid certain players in favor of others. What’s most interesting is the return of three Tianjin players, and the general overlooking of Guangzhou players, though in the end they have 3 on the team.

S: All in all though, I’d fully expect China to beat Singapore in Kunming.

B: We can chat more about that next week, for now, are we ready to close out the pub?

S: Yes. With nothing happening this weekend on the pitch, time to down these beers and score brownie points with significant others by heading home early I think.

B: Yeah, damn, I have to remember I have a life away from Chinese football….hehe, cheers, have a great weekend! Alright, we get out early today. I’m outta here, talk to you tomorrow, laser tag shouldn’t suck, haha, if it does, there’s beer afterwards…

S: Hah. Cheers mate!

A leading international commentator on Chinese football frequently quoted by the world's top media. Offers piercing and resolutely honest insights into the bustling crossroads where football, society, economics and politics meet in contemporary China. Based in Shanghai since 2005, observer of the Chinese game since 2000.



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