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Chinese Super League

2011 CSL Season in Review: A Final Look at the ACL and Relegation Sides

ACL positioning

  1. Guangzhou (68 points)
  2. Beijing (53 points)
  3. Liaoning (50 points)
  4. Jiangsu (47 points)
  5. Shandong (47 points)
  6. Qingdao (45 points)
  7. Changchun (45 points)

There wasn’t much to play for on the last day of the season, but the final Asian Champions League spot was still up for grabs last Wednesday afternoon and if Liaoning failed to win, crazy math would be involved at figuring out who exactly would make it into that spot.  As it turned out, there was no need for the math because Liaoning went to Tianjin and crushed them 3 – 1 in an exciting match.

At the start of the year, my assessment of Liaoning was that they’d be stuck in the middle of the table, a mediocre team that wouldn’t be much of a threat, but would come up with some upsets.  This site’s Founding Editor felt the same thing, picking them to finish 12th.  Last year Yang Xu and Yu Hanchao were a revelation, both impressed during their first season in the Chinese Super League last year, they were supported by lifelong Liaoninger, Zhao Junzhe, a constant on the pitch and the heart and soul of the team.

The reality was that’s about all they had.  They brought in Otto from Beijing and while he improved on his strike rate slightly, he still only contributed 5 goals.  Instead they did it through their young heroes and strong defense.  Kim Yoo-jin and Zheng Tao were preseason pickups who were key assets to make that defense better.

Another crucial element in the side’s success was manager Ma Lin.  Ma  has been as much a part of Liaoning football as Zhao, playing for the side for more than 10 years before being one of the first Chinese to go overseas, spending some time in the Japanese league.   After retiring, he worked his way up at the club he loved, first as an assistant and later as a head coach.  He left the club and even dropped out of managing, but attempted to be Liaoning’s saviour during the 2008 season.  Despite his efforts, the side was relegated, but bounced right back up to the top flight the next season and surprised everyone by finishing seventh.

Now we at have to look on slightly embarrassed for our failing to count Liaoning amongst the serious ACL players this year.  Despite their high flying finish last year, there were just too many questions.  Could Zhao hold up all season? He did.  Could Otto deliver the goals they needed?  He didn’t.  Could the young strike force really do it another season?  They did, and they put the team on their back, combining for more than half their side’s goals this year.  Otto and Zhao added each added five more and the Korean defender Kim contributed four.

After seeing their beloved side go down, Ma and Zhao have turned things around and will bring ACL matches to Shenyang next season.  Liaoning fans surely won’t let anyone forget that they are the only Chinese side to win an Asian competition, having won the 1990 Asian Club Championship.  While the club is famous for doing more with less, if management is to be believed, Ma will have a decent transfer kitty to work with.  That’s not to say the club will be competing with the likes of Guangzhou and Beijing to entice players to come north, but they will be able to go out and buy a decent foreign striker to help their young guns and maybe a strong domestic player and/or a foreign midfielder.  While both Yang and Yu were highly desired targets during the last transfer window, the attraction of Asian football should mean the pair remain in Shenyang.

The Dongbei side is hard to hate, they are one of the closest things in Chinese soccer to a “people’s club”, with more than a few players spending their whole career (or close to it) at the club.  They are also one of the few sides who have a history of success that don’t bring up the same animus as other top sides like Beijing, Dalian, Shandong, and Shanghai, who all hate each other and are commonly hated around the country.

It will be exciting to see how Liaoning do in Asia and in the league next season, this correspondent has always had a soft side for the club and while he won’t be a regular on the terraces in Shenyang, expect to see a few “View from the Northeast” reports on here next season.

Relegation zone

  1. Nanchang (29 points)
  2. Chengdu (27 points)
  3. Shenzhen (23 points)

Last Wednesday must have been especially hard for Chengdu, going up against fellow 2010 promoted side Guangzhou Evergrande. They were able to earn a point out of the match, but at the end of the day, Guangzhou are still this year’s league champions while Chengdu are headed back down to the China League. The result was too little too late for the southwestern side, who spent the season’s final 16 weeks in the relegation zone and never made it above 10 after the first round.

The club has a lot of young talent, but they lack the backing that most Chinese Super League teams have and there was very little investment in the squad. Unlike most Chinese teams, they failed to invest seriously in foreigners and the ones they did purchase didn’t make it onto the pitch that often, though Brendon Santalab did have an impressive record scoring 5 goals in 10 games (4 of those goals coming on the road). Before the start of this season there was a lot of talk about the club being purchased and moving, potentially to Hainan. Though they’ll be in the China League next season, their young talent has the potential to take them back up, this club is ripe for investment.

Chengdu's manager sheds a tear after their final match

Much like Chengdu, Shenzhen has plenty of reason to look on jealously at the league champions as the two sides are local rivals and ar only separated by less than an hour train ride. Shenzhen spent a lot of money on manager Philippe Troussier, beating out a number of fellow Chinese Super League sides for the Frenchman’s services, and he was supposed to be the key that helped the club break into the top 10 after two seasons just outside of it. Despite massive investments that saw the club purchase a pair of Japanese players as well as Kiwi star Chris Killen, the club failed.

They didn’t only fail, they did so spectacularly, spending 15 weeks in the relegation zone, most importantly they were in it for the final eight weeks. Shenzhen never made it above the 13th position in the table and while scoring wasn’t a problem (Killen scored a fantastic nine goals for the side), they gave up more goals than anybody in the league. Much of the blame falls on Troussier, whose style of play didn’t seem suited for the Chinese game and who never tried adjusting to fit, instead foaming at the mouth about the problems of Chinese football, we’ll see if he’s able to keep his job going forward, but don’t expect any other Chinese clubs to be contacting him and while the CFA’s incredibly incompetent, they will certainly never again consider Troussier as a managerial candidate. I say good riddance to him.

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.



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