The boys meet in the pub once again. This week, they discuss Guangzhou’s wrapping up of the league title and what that could mean for manager Lee Jangsoo as well as the Asian Champions League. There’s also a discussion of crowd events at Hongkou and what Shaanxi’s signing of Gao Hongbo as manager could mean to the transfer picture in the close season. They somehow get to talking about American soccer as well as the CFA, aka a certain southern side’s “干爹”.
B. Cheng (Beijing Guoan): Lot’s to talk about this week, a brawl in Hangzhou, some goings on in Tianjin, and, of course, we’ve got a new champion. So what’s on your mind right now?
Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua): Well I have to say its been a very exciting week. I think first of all we have to say congratulations to Guangzhou, they’ve been the strongest team, and to be honest I’m glad the championship race is over, they’re champions now and we can all move on and concentrate on what other remaining issues have to be settled before the end of the season.
B: It’s been a foregone conclusion for about two months, so it’s good that it’s finally happened.
C: Yes, that’s exactly my feeling
B: I don’t begrudge them the title, I agree they were the best team over the course of the season, but this was a uniquely “blessed” season, getting every call, getting every break, even with all of Wang Jianlin’s money, I imagine things won’t be so easy next year.
C: I think some our readers based in the deep south may beg to differ, B. However, I think the fairest thing I can say is that, Guangzhou was clearly the best team, but the huge points gap at the top of the Chinese Super League does flatter them I believe.
B: Like any league, head-to-head doesn’t matter, it’s what you do throughout the season. Guangzhou looked average when playing top sides and beat up on everyone else. Unless Wang through’s his money around again, next season’s going to be a different story.
I do give them a lot of credit for being tenacious, coming from behind and getting late goals much of the time, that’s not the players, that’s the stamp of a Lee Jangsoo side, if he’s not in charge next year, it could make a big difference.
C: Yes, and we’ve learned that Guangzhou are in the market for a “Big Name” manger to lead them to glory in the ACL, what’s your take on that?
B: They won this year due to Old Lee, he’s arguably the best manager in China, and he has a unique understanding of what it takes to win in the Chinese Super League. If you bring in some big Euro name, that’s all well and good, but you need to be familiar with how things work here. I think it’s a pipe dream, but reports are there’s only a slim chance Lee will return as first team manager next year.
Granted, the Chinese sports media is not much better than the Chinese media generally.
C: I think if Guangzhou don’t hang onto Lee, it would be a massive mistake. It’s an example of the typical thinking of tycoon’s who don’t understand the nuances of football and think its the same as business.
B: Agreed, “world famous” doesn’t matter, what matters is how well he knows his side and the competition. But we’ve seen Guangzhou pull the trigger on a manager very quickly, after all, that’s how Lee got the job, the previous manager hadn’t even coached a match when they fired him and brought Lee in.
C: So before we move on to other more exciting topics, what’s happened up in the capital over the last week or so?
B: Not much, we crushed Henan over the weekend, though it was somewhat less cathartic because no Henan fans made the trip, though many of the chants were fun. Then we managed a draw away at Shandong in the rain, not a bad result as the point (and the other results) mean we’ve pretty much wrapped up an ACL spot.
C: What’s the basic feeling up north about Guoan’s Chinese Super League campaign this season?
B: Basically it’s that we didn’t have the luck or the CFA’s backing like Guangzhou had. We’ve failed to come from behind to win this season, haven’t managed a late goal in an important match, and while our defense has been solid all year, the offense has sputtered at times.
C: You haven’t managed a late goal? Shenhua have won three games this year with last-minute goals.
B: We’ve scored plenty of 85-90th minute goals, but always in 2-0 matches.
C: Right, just not result-changing goals.
B: Nothing like the late minute miracle you guys got against Hangzhou. Or another big highlight of the year, the one against Shandong, both coming at Hongkou.
C: Yes, not to forget THAT game against Jiangsu. If you look at the Shenhua PPTV clip, I think that really captures the emotion of the last minute winner against Hangzhou perfectly. This is what football is all about – two teams with nothing to play for execpt local derby pride, and the Shenhua fans go absolutely nuts at the end… because its been so long they had anything to go nuts about.
B: Yeah, looks like one hell of a night!
C: Q: Shenhua v Hangzhou is the new Guoan v Tianjin. Discuss.
B: Let’s see what happens in half a month when the season resumes and Guoan goes away to Tianjin. That said, the pictures from outside the stadium look similar to what happened a few times between Beijing and Tianjin before the authorities cracked down on the fans.
C: Yes, there was a lot of fighting a few streets away from the ground, but I haven’t heard anything concrete about exactly what happened yet.
B: I see, look forward to hearing more about it in the days to come. An interesting incident in Tianjin as it seems the fans attacked the Dalian reserve players.
C: Yeah I saw some pictures of that, what’s the story there>
B: Much like what happened at Hongkou, I’ve yet to hear solid reports, but I think the players were cheering their teams equalizing and earning a draw to the consternation of the local fans. Usually the reserves are sat with the media, having them anywhere near the home fans would be a pretty major mistake.
C: Sounds like someone bungled the arrangements quite badly.
B: Yeah, not a surprise.
C: Well, its just really all been happening recently, hasn’t it? Its been something of a rumpus from start to finish in the Chinese Super League this week.
B: Right, and we’ve got a great race for the final ACL spot, and a tough three way battle at the bottom of the table.
And we haven’t even gotten to Gao Hongbo’s hiring at Shaanxi, it was Gao’s side that got crushed by Guangzhou allowing them to win the league
C: That’s true. Do you think Gao will do a job at Shaanxi next year?
B: They’re going to need to spend a lot of money, but there’s definite potential for that. We’ve seen Shaanxi splash the cash before last year, outspending everyone else, and they have a number of solid parts, they’ll just need the foreigners to back them up.
C: Derek Riordan seems to have played quite well without scoring many goals so far. I wonder if he will be part of the picture next year. I think’s he’s definately got the quality to suceed in China, but we we know, the game and general setup, infact, just everything, is a bit different here compared to Europe.
B: Right, if he does stay, maybe he’s able to turn it on next year. I imagine Shaanxi will pay out for some players, I just can’t see Gao aggreeing to the move without a guarantee. He’s been made the highest paid Chinese manager around, on RMB3 million, they’re going to be expecting return on their investment.
C: Right, and they are going to have to give him funds to splash
B: They’ve shown they have the propensity to spend, in 2010 they outspent everyone, though they didn’t get a top 4 finish, so its not just spending but capturing the right players.
Made even harder with Guangzhou out there more than willing to spend top dollar.
C: Indeed. And getting foreign players who can fit into Chinese football is a big ask. It’s a question that is never answered until contracts have been signed and money spent on acquiring such players.
B: Yes, that’s why Guoan should do what it can to keep Joel Griffiths in green！
C: I think thats also why we see some foreign players stay in China for many seasons. Luis Ramirez at Hangzhou for example.
B: Exactly, Guoan has a bit of a crisis as Griffiths, Matic, and Martinez all have contracts which are to run up at the end of this season. Most expect Martinez is going to move on, but Griffiths and Matic are signable. Both have been with the team since 2009, Darko (Matic) should be their first target.
Media reports out of Australia are claiming that Griffiths may head back to play in the A-League during the off season, but the Chinese Super League is too lucrative and he’s likely to be with a Chinese team at the start of next season. I still can’t get over the idea that Chinese Super League contracts are more lucrative than A-League ones.
C: Me neither. Especially as I suspect the A-League may make more money at the gate and in sponsorship revenues than the Chinese Super League. Though I could be wrong about that.
B: Though they can’t match for attendance, I’m betting they do. And in tv money and merchandising.
C: Yeah, I think A-League match tickets are relatively more expensive than Chinese Super League ones.
B: A bottle of beer is more expensive than a lot of Chinese Super League match tickets.
C: At least we have seen attendances in general increase quite a bit this year, even if Beijing, Guangzhou and to a lesser extend, Shaanxi are proping up the averages.
B: I’m not sure how things are in Kunming, but I could attend 2-3 Chinese Super League matches in most cities for what a pint of the black stuff costs me here. With few exceptions, most grounds are getting over 10,000, and many are in the 15,000-20,000 range. Not too shabby.
C: That is good if you compare it to the averages of most football leagues in the world, excepting the usual suspects in Europe.
B: and by usual suspects, you’re only talking UK and Germany, I suspect a lot of Italian, French, and Spanish clubs are in that same 15-20,000 range, exempting the top clubs in those leagues.
C: Right. And MLS averages around 15-20k if I’m not mistaken also. So, given China’s well-documented footballing woes, all in all I think this shows that China loves football and eventually they are going to sort it out and its going to become massive.
B: Wow, MLS is that high?!?
C: I’m not totally sure. I thought you would know this, I’m shocked that, as an American soccer fan, you aren’t aware of the MLSs average turnout.
B: You’re right, last year it was almost 17,000, very respectable, this year all teams average over 10,000. It’s too hard to follow the MLS from China, so I’m just a casual observer.
C: Indeed, I’m glad to be able to inform you of what’s going on over there.
B: Most teams are in the 14,000-18,000 zone, though Seattle blows everyone away with 37,000. Still nobody is doing the attendance figures that Beijing and Guangzhou are, but that’s partly because the capacities are smaller.
C: Yes. It’s just a pity the attendance picture is a bit imbalanced in China. Certainly, Shenhua are averaging something like 11,000 this year. Obviously for China’s biggest and most populous city, that’s a joke.
B: Or that 14 of the 18 teams in that league play in smaller, soccer specific stadia, whereas 2 out of 16 teams in China do.
C: If only we had more soccer specific stadia in China. There is nothing worse than watching a football match in an athletics stadium. Shit atmosphere, even worse view.
B: I couldn’t agree more, and in the MLS those stadiums that aren’t soccer specific are designed for American football, which means that for soccer matches they’re basically soccer specific, at least no running track and massive distance. But that ain’t ever happening here.
C: I noticed there is a soccer-specific stadium in Chengdu, but Chengdu Blades don’t use it. Typical Chinese Super League.
B: Right, and we’ll finally see Gongti become “soccer specific” (quotes are purposeful) next year.
C: Are they going to do that properly? Or just typically Chinese football half-baked effort, putting seats on the running track instead of lowering the pitch?
B: Who knows. At this point I don’t expect to see it put in place this year, we’ll see when the ACL rolls around next year.
C: It’s ironic that in China, where they build skyscrapers overnight, subway lines in a year, and high speed rail networks in 18 months, that they can’t handle lowering the pitch at Gongti and doing the job properly.
B: I reserve judgment for the start of next year. On a different topic, who is going down?
C: I think its pretty clear that is Chengdu going down, and Shenzhen and Nanchang left to battle it out to stay up. Henan are out of sight now, as are Dalian, and Shenhua, whilst giving everyone a scare, were never seriously in danger of relegation, if only because its too near the end of the season for a sufficient number of further bad results to happen.
B: I agree, I wouldn’t be so quick to right off Chengdu, but they have Guangzhou on the last day, which means they’ll have to get points in all their other matches, unlikely. Though, they host Shenzhen in the next round, so they can pull Shenzhen down with them.
C: Chengdu have been rock bottom almost all season, can’t see them staying up, even if they did manage to beat Shenhua the other week.
B: On paper, Nanchang, who already have a three point lead, look most likely to stay up as they host Tianjin and Shanghai and go to Shaanxi and Jiangsu. Shenzhen host Shandong and have to go away to Chengdu, Hangzhou, and Changchun. Not an easy path. The excitement is for the ACL position(s), Guoan has one all but wrapped up now, but if they win the CFA Cup, two positions will be up for grabs, so there’s a lot left to fight for.
C: Yes the CFA cup makes things interesting. I think for once, the CFA did the right thing by awarding an ACL place to the winners.
B: Definitely, it gives the clubs something to play for. There’s no other way Shanghai could get into Asia and its definitely the easiest way for Tianjin and Shandong. That said, is getting into Asia really a good thing? Perhaps we should leave that for another day though…
C: Yes perhaps. Although, the ACL is taken seriously now by the Japanese and Korean clubs, even if not always by the fans. I think its only going to grow in prestiege. Chinese Super League clubs certainly want the “face” value of doing well in it.
B: But doing well for a Chinese side means getting out of the group stages.
C: That’s right. But once you are out of those stages, there’s no reason why clubs can’t go further. Are A-Leauge clubs better than the Chinese Super League? I don’t really think so, yet they have made ACL finals in recent years.
B: Right, though that was in 2008 before it was expanded. We have to go back to 2005 to find the last time a Chinese club had a decent showing, that year Shenzhen made the semis and Shandong made the quarters. It’s heavily Korean dominated, along with a “West Asia” team or two or possibly a Japanese side. I can’t see a Chinese club making it past the Round of 16.
That includes Guangzhou, I’m sorry, send the hate mail my way, but you’re having a laugh if you think Guangzhou can seriously compete in Asia with their current side.
C: I wouldn’t be so certain about that. We previously both agree that Chinese players, when they aren’t playing in a national team jersey, are comparable with the calibre of Asia’s top players. So with Guangzhou having quite a few top Chinese players, plus Conca et al, I think they have a pretty strong squad to face the cream of Asia, even if we agree the margin of their Chinese Super League victory flatters them.
B: Guangzhou is likely to buy another national teamer or two after this year, so they are likely to be better, but they are a small team without a solid keeper. Over two legs, they’re likely to be found out.
C: It’s certainly going to be interesting finding out. I think Guangzhou will do well, but the ACL is a totally different kettle of fish to the Chinese Super League.
B: Much harder to, erm, influence the referees…It’s not the same when your “godfather” isn’t in charge of everything.
C: Well what is it the Chinese say? All the crows in the sky are black…..
B: Time to end this before the pub fills up with national day revelry? Speaking of which, the next time we meet, we’ll have some national team football to discuss.
C: Yes, looking forward to that. It’s been a long Friday afternoon in the pub, I think its time for us both to get into the national week holiday mood by heading to the real one.
B: Cheers to that!
C: Happy holidays everyone!
B: Yeah, everyone enjoy the holiday!