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Pub Talk: China’s World Cup 2014 path starts here

In their regular Pub Talk feature, Bcheng and the editor get together over a virtual pint to discuss the finer points of Chinese football. In this week’s edition, the Chinese Super League takes a back seat again as the pair discuss China’s chances in their upcoming double-header against Singapore and Jordan in the World Cup qualifiers. Choice of captain, CFA meddling, incompetant translators, and expiring passports are the surprising topics on the agenda this week, as is the impact of national team games on the scheduling of the Chinese Super League. Elsewhere, its exciting times for the dynamic duo as they discuss s bold plans to host its first ever livechat during the big game itself tonight.

Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua) So, China gets its World Cup qualifying show on the road for real this weekend, before we move on to the main agenda, are there any snippets of Chinese Super League news this week?

Bcheng (Beijing Guoan): Big news in Beijing (if you can call it big), is that manager Jamie Pacheco’s contract has been extended, so he’ll be back for another year at the very least.

S: Good to see a foreign figure staying in the Chinese Super League for more than a year. Is Pacheco that good?

B: I think so, he’s done a lot with a little, the same roster that they had last year pretty much, minus 2 very important national teamers.

S: I’d say Guoan have had a very good season, barring any late Shenhua-eseque collapse.

B: It’s going to be a tough 2 months, so we’ll see, but they definitely exceeded expectations.

S: Anything else happening in the capital?

B: Not much going on around here, some interesting stories elsewhere in China. Muriqui, who was going to leave Guangzhou after the end of the season, is now planning on staying since Guangzhou’s willing to raise his salary.

S: That’s good news for neutrals and Guangzhou fans, bad news for everyone else.

B: Yeah, definitely. In other news, Phillipe Troussier, the Shenzhen manager who sems likely to lead them to safety this year has come out and criticized the Chinese Super League referees and believes that it’s one of the things holding Chinese football back, no surprises there.

S: I’m glad to see his powers of observation are functioning normally.

B: Will be interesting to see how they do the rest of the year now that the Universaide is over and they’re in that brand new stadium. I’m guessing they stay up. Anything going on in Shanghai these days?

S: Yes, the Shanghai football media is full of reports on all manner of high-level goings-on at the moment.

B: That’s what I hear, the Shanghai sports bureau higher ups who were in Korea to watch Liu Xiang made a side trip to meet with Zhu Jun who was also in Korea. Anything going to come out of this?

S: Yes, Zhu Jun apparently met with Shanghai city sports bureau bigwig Li Yuyi. There wasn’t much said about what they actually discussed, other than speculation and observations that the meeting was relaxed and friendly. However, reading between the lines, and going from what I have heard, the Shanghai government is beginning to tire of Zhu Jun, apparently they are unimpressed with his decision to move the home CFA cup game to Wuhu in Anhui province.

B: This is a very interesting developing story. I’ve seen rumors that they told him to either buy out all the State Owned shares in the club or do a better job managing the team.

S: That would follow. But I’ve also heard stories saying that Zhu Jun is willing to sell Shenhua to anyone able to meet his asking price. He apparently also owns the two chinese characters Shenhua (申花) as a trademark also. There’s also a lot of concern in the upper echelons of the government that Shenhua are not doing a good job at all of representing Shanghai city, and there is a lot of dissatisfaction as regards this. When you read about club owners being summoned for meetings with senior city government officials, it usually means something big will happen soon afterwards. The time is ripe for change at Shenhua, I expect something will break sooner or later.

B: I can definitely imagine Shanghai is embarassed, this is a city that loves to think of itself as China’s best, it’s one of only four “first tier” cities in China, and the two cities it competes most with, Beijing and Guangzhou sit at the top of the table.

S: Your description is correct. The thing is, Shenhua fans have been pissed off for years before now, they haven’t won the league since 2003, since then there have been numerous close calls but the team tend to bottle it at crucial moments, so already the fanbase has been unhappy before this season even began, now with the squad arguably at its weakest ever, the team taking an incredible one point from 27, and the owner fooling around moving the club to other cities, things are at an all-time low.

B: This has been an incredibly frustrating season for Shenhua, I don’t think you expected much at the start of the year, but this horrendous run of form has been brutal for the fans.

S: It has. As we have discussed in this pub over the past few months, things have gotten a little out of hand – so much so that senior government figures are now frowning upon Shenhua’s appalling situation, and rightly so.

B: Craziness. And now the Chinese Super League season goes from a marathon to an out-and-out sprint with 6 matches in under 3 weeks for our two clubs, pretty horrible job on the scheduling side, how much will this make a difference?

S: Luckily, all the teams that were in the ACL are now out, so at this point, everyone is being affected equally as far as I can see. But the scheduling is a serious issue the Chinese Super League need to look at, I don’t understand why the national team needs 11 days to prepare for an international match, the Chinese Super League was originally scheduled to play games on August 24, I believe these should have went ahead, it would still have left over a week for the national team to get together.

B: Let’s not forget that it’s the 2nd time that match was rescheduled, originally being moved to August to give time to the Olympic team’s match.

S: Yes, moving games for an under-23 match – I can’t think of any time that would happen in Europe. Whilst I can understand the CFA wants to do what they think is best for the national team, they way they go about it is completely wrong. They don’t understand that the key to a healthy Chinese national team is a well-run, well-regulated, well-supported and heavily-prioritized Chinese Super League. The precedents are all around for everyone to see. MLS, J-League and K-League are all pro football leagues which started up around the same time as the Chinese Super League, these leagues are properly run, now the USA, South Korea and Japan are fixtures at the World Cup. But meanwhile, the Chinese Super League is trodden all over and shoe-horned into the fixture calendar regardless of what’s best for the Chinese Super League.

B: Yeah, I can understand making the national team a priority and that’s all well and good, but this sudden change reall turns things around. The Chinese Super League was a match a week, now its this sudden burst of matches in such a short period. Then you add into that the CFA Cup being moved up to this month. I never understood why it was in November, but now what was going to be weekend matches will be weekday affairs.

S: And that’s not good for the fans. I think most fans prefer Friday night, Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening games.

B: The same thing happens in October with 5 matches over 3 weeks to close out the year, very dissappointing.

S: It’s bizarre, and I think they will have to have a major re-think, next year we will have an expanded CFA cup, the ACL, and most likely more national team games to squeeze in. This year they started the season very late, around April 1, I think they should push it back a month, the close season is too long, when did the season end last year? Start of November? Thats almost a 5-month break. That’s too long. Teams in the north of China could start and end their seasons on the road if the weather is too cold.

B: I agree the season needs to be started earlier if they insist on taking a month off. That said, weather is weather, they shouldn’t hurt the northern clubs just because its cold. Interestingly, the rumor was that new sponsor Toshiba was pushing for the CFA Cup to be played at the Bird’s Nest, but the CFA is against it. November 19 in Beijing is going to be a cold day. They haven’t chosen a venue yet, so it’s still a possibility. I’d love to see it, adds to the specialness of the cup final. And as for cold, I remember the last time we won the cup, it was in a snowstorm in Dalian, so we’re not afraid!

S: I agree, originally coming from northern climes myself, watching football in adverse conditions is something I’m used to. Having the final at the Bird’s Nest is a great idea. I can’t think why the CFA would be against it, I mean, its a neutral ground and its in the nation’s capital, it seems to make sense to me.

B: That could be why, the CFA is terminally allergic to ideas that make sense.

S: Yes. And I believe their senseless stupidity has reared its ugly head again, with regards to Senor Camacho’s choice of captain?

B: Yes, they were pushing for Du Wei to be captain, Camacho wanted to go with Li Weifeng, it appears in the end he’s won. As it should be.

S: Captaincy selection is strictly for the head coach to decide upon, the CFA has absolutely no business meddling in such matters.

B: Interestingly, Camacho is doing it purely on caps, so his second choice would be Qu Bo, not Du.

S: I dont’ think Du Wei is much of an inspirational character, albeit he played for China in the 2002 World Cup.

B: For some reason, I forgot he was on that squad, don’t think he saw any playing time, but he was indeed one of the final choices that year.

S: So, we are hosting a live chat for tomorrow’s WC qualifier between China and Singapore. Exciting times!

B: It should be fun, I’m looking forward to it, I hope the boys give us a good show.

S: Well if its China, there should be plenty of talking points, if nothing else.

B: I’ve been promised I won’t be the only one, so I won’t revert to too much drinking and random, crazy outbursts.

S: Lets hope such outbursts aren’t the most entertaining thing on show tomorrow night.

B: So should we bring this chat to a close? A lot to talk about considering there’s still another week before the Chinese Super League restarts!

S: Yeah, its been quite a serious discussion next week. But everyone, don’t forget you can join in the live chat during tomorrow night’s China v Singapore game at 7:45 pm Beijing time.

B: Definitely. I’ll try to limit my drinking until after the match, promise. Cheers to China, and hopefully 6 points, time for me to go home?

S: Yes. Lets hope the CFA can get a compentant translator in place and a shiny new passport for Zhang Wenzhao so he can make it to Jordan next week!

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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