Since coming to Beijing in 2009, the Australian import Joel Griffiths has been an important part of Guoan’s offense, with 27 goals in 76 matches, including an impressive 10 goals this season. Over the past two season he has played in every match but four, a major feat, and has become a true fan favorite in the capital. Editor-in-Chief B. Cheng sat down with Griffiths before the Shanghai match and discussed restaurants, pollution, and middle fingers among other topics, and while though the question of the Aussie’s future with the club remains unanswered, it’s still compelling to hear Griffiths thoughts on a variety of topics.
BCheng: Joel, you’re having your best season so far with Guoan, what do you credit that to?
Joel Griffiths: I don’t know, a few factors obviously, the team itself I think, we gelled pretty well this year. And that’s got to do with the coaching staff as well. I think they brought something different and Pacheco’s style of play suits a lot of the players including myself. These are very important factors to having a successful season but you know we have one more game to go and it’s been a long season, we’ve been one of the better teams and deserve to be in second position. Hopefully we can continue doing this.
BCheng: How much harder is it for you this year without your brother in Beijing?
Griffiths: Yeah I thought it was going to be a lot harder actually but you know it was okay. Obviously it’s different without him there, but I have to manage and I probably did a few things when he was here that I wouldn’t have done so it was good for him to be here. But saying that I handled myself without him and it was better.
BCheng: With that, me being a foreigner in Beijing it’s easy for me to make friends with coworkers or going out, plus speaking Chinese, but even with foreign coworkers, but you as a player it has to be much harder especially when some of the other foreign players don’t always speak English so how do you deal with that?
Griffiths: Well I think we all have our own friends away from football and most of my friends are foreigners in Beijing working or travelling or doing something. You know I had a lot of friends at the last game and they’ve become very close friends, we have a close community where I live so they like to support me and I like to support them whatever they do. I don’t think it’s a problem with learning Chinese, I’d obviously like to learn a lot faster and wish I could speak a little bit better, but I’m sure that will come in time. I’ll probably really concentrate next year on learning how to speak better because my daughter is beating me in that department.
BCheng: Do you have any favorite restaurants or bars in the city?
Griffiths: I have a favorite coffee shop, it’s right near my place, called Jamaica Blue, it’s probably the best coffee I would like to say, it’s Australian obviously so I have to say that. In terms of restaurants, there’s a good Japanese restaurant, but we pretty much just go there on special occasions, we don’t want to overuse it because it takes the fun out of it in Sanlitun
BCheng: What about local food？
Griffiths: The only time I go for local food is when teammates invite me for dinner or when I go with my Chinese agent. To actually know a good restaurant, I probably wouldn’t know local food, you want to trust them or go with somebody who knows what to order.
BCheng: We came to Shanghai, the pollution the past couple days has been pretty bad in Beijing, it was nice to come to Shanghai and finally see the sun, as an athlete how much does the pollution affect you?
Griffiths: To be honest, it doesn’t really affect me so much. It affects a lot of my friends I speak to because they always bring it up to me, but for me I think it is just part of life that you have to deal with in Beijing. I think if it bothers you that much it might be time for you to go home, but for me, my family, I don’t think it bothers us so much.
BCheng: You’ve had some trouble running into the rules in China back in 2009 and the manger has had some problems with that this season, does the league do any training or does the team talk to you about these differences?
Griffiths: No, not really. I think its more trial and error, like you have to learn from your mistakes. I did that and the coach is learning that now. The first year I think it was difficult because it was totally different from back home in Australia or even Europe, but it makes you a little calmer playing in China. The past two seasons I’ve been here I’ve been a different player, I’ve been out of trouble and this is a good thing.
BCheng: How do you compare the Aussie league to the Chinese league and the development of the Chinese league over the past few seasons?
Griffiths: I don’t know, people ask me this all the time when I’m back home and to be honest you can’t really compare. Obviously, it’s been awhile since I’ve played back home so I tend to forget a few things but the one thing is that it’s a lot quicker in Australia and they are a lot more physical, obviously, everyone knows that. Chinese players are probably more technical than Australians, but these are the only, probably little factors that obviously both Chinese and Australians have different mentalities. You have the different foreigners: you’re going to get Brazilians, you’re going to get Argentineans, you’re going to get European players playing in both leagues and I think the best way to judge this is when they play ACL, and then everyone can see what is the difference.
BCheng: I noticed in a recent interview you did you said before the match you tend to like to listen to Jack Johnson instead of hip hop or heavy metal, I like Jack Johnson too but I don’t know if it’s what I’d choose for before a match.
Griffiths: I want to be relaxed. If I listen to AC/DC I’d probably get sent off in the first minute. So Jack Johnson, I have a whole list of people I like to listen to but he’s one of the favorites, I’m a big fan of his.
BCheng: Out of the other teams in the league, is there any particular team you really like to play against, the derby matches or playing against your brother?
Griffiths: Obviously Tianjin. Oh, I hate playing against my brother, hate it because you want him to do well, but you want to win the game. It’s really weird, you try your hardest not to talk to him because your concentration goes. Pretty much any of my friends that play in China or even Australia I don’t like to play against, it’s so annoying.
BCheng: I have a couple of quick questions about the manager, Pacheco, is there any action or expression that he tends to like to use or overuse a lot?
Griffiths: There’s a lot of them. Fodaxe is one of them, I don’t know what it means in Portuguese but I don’t think it’s a good word. This is one of the words I hear a lot. If someone can translate this, then be my guest [Editor’s note: it most definitely is a bad word in Portuguese, akin to shit or fuck].
BCheng: At times it seems he can be almost child-like on the sidelines or especially in practices?
Griffiths: Yeah, it seems like that but I think he’s just a very competitive person. He’s always defending us and I think this is what a manager has and he has the respect of pretty much all the players on the team. Players want to play for him because he makes sense. He’s always trying his best to make the players happy and this is one of the reasons I get along well with him because I can relate to his way of thinking and his style of play.
BCheng: At 52 years old he’s very active, running around in practices…
Griffiths: (Interrupting） Ah, he’s fitter than some of the players in our team. Really, I’m not joking. I heard when he was in Portugal he was always the first one or two players that were always finishing first. So he’s very enthusiastic and always wanting to play football, I’ve never known a person who loves to play football so much; I don’t think I could be like this. Really, he’s amazing.
BCheng: What would be your scouting report of him as a player?
Griffiths Obviously I have to say nice things because he might listen to this, but he’s a winner. I think even if he’s playing cards, chess, he always wants to win this game and it shows when he goes out and tries to win football games and this is one thing I noticed and it’s very rare for people to be so strong about winning.
BCheng: What’s your deepest impression of him over the course of the season?
Griffiths: (Laughing) Probably his finger.
BCheng: The middle finger during the Tianjin match?
Griffiths: Yeah, I laughed at that because I got in trouble with that a couple years ago. He got four weeks I think. Did he get four weeks or was it eight?
BCheng: I think it was eight matches, but four regular and four reserve.
Griffiths: Four for both fingers, so there you go.
BCheng: Thank you very much for your time.
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