Pub Talk returns this week in response to the Chinese Super League close season transfer market going into overdrive. Your two intrepid correspondents chew the fat over Nicolas Anelka’s seemingly imminent move to Shanghai Shenhua, the same team apparently stealing Joel Griffthis from arch-rivals Beijing, and the likelihood of Drogba appearing for Dalian’s newly promoted side, Aerbin. The ACL is also on the agenda, Guangzhou are in the group of death and Bcheng thinks his beloved Guoan are most likely to get through to the knockout phase. There’s also time for a Pub Talk collectors item – a heated debate between the virtual drinkers which doesn’t involve Shenhua or Beijing – its gloves off as they go head-to-head over Shaanxi’s relocation – UK v USA attitudes to moving sports clubs. Meanwhile, there’s also just enough time for Buster Gonad to raise his ugly balls once again in the virtual pub.
Bcheng (Beijing Guoan): It’s good to be back down the pub this week, we’ve specifically tried to avoid transfer talk, but it keeps cropping up and now the big story’s that your lot appear to have brought Le Sulk to China.
Shanghai Ultra (Shanghai Shenhua):Yes, I’d venture to suggest that, the close-season transfer market is just on fire right now.
B: So what do you think of Anelka to Shenhua?
S: That’s a good question. At first I thought it was just another wild rumour, but it now appears he is on his way. Basically I think its a good thing, in one foul swoop it re-establishes Shenhua as China’s glamour team, he will almost double gates at Hongkou, and he will give Shanghainese football the boost it badly needs. The bad side is that, its a lot of money, is it a wise investment?
B: Blah, blah, blah. The “glamour team”? When was Shenhua ever that? But yes, it will certainly lead to a few more thousand coming to Hongkou for matches. It’s great to have a signing of this calibre in the Chinese Super League, we just have to hope he’s happy in Shanghai and gives a good report to others who might come.
S: I think you will find Shanghai appeals to stylish French types like Anelka, that’s why Guoan wouldn’t have a hope in hell of signing him, and certainly I can’t imagine him playing in Guangzhou, which is a bit of a dump, no offence intended.
B: We’re more about Iberian flair up north. So will the Sulk be happy or sulky?
S: I think he will like Shanghai. There’s loads of French here already, he will fit right in. That’s assuming he does actually arrive here. More importantly though, and what I forgot to mention in my article on him yesterday, this totally changes the gameplan for Shenhua – it proves they now have the finance. You can no longer amuse yourself by assuming that the likes of Feng Renliang, Cao Yunding and Wu Xi will be heading to Guangzhou.
B: Seriously Clark?!? I guarantee you two (and most likely all three) of those players won’t be wearing Shenhua blue in April. I’m guessing part of Anelka’s money comes from Zhu’s plans to sell those players. Plus, and you know it makes sense, buying Anelka’s just the thing to help blunt the blow of losing those three.
S: I don’t think so, Cao Yunding is going nowhere, Zhu Jun said he is willing to sell the others but only at the right price. The money for Anelka for the most part is coming via a government investment I think, plus I don’t think the price of those three would get anywhere near the amount being splashed on Anelka.
B: What’s the rumors about price? 7 million euro?
S: About that, 6 million UK pounds a year, which I think is the same kind of money Conca is on. I think Anelka will push the average gate at Hongkou up to around 20k, Shenhua will be the hot ticket in town next year, I think the club may put up season ticket prices, Shanghainese do understand the concept of paying for quality I think. Although, of course, the extra gate wont cover Anekla’s salary.
B: The selling of the three would probably bring in slightly more than Anelka’s salary for one of his two years, but it will depend heavily on how high they can push the price up on Guangzhou and Jiangsu. I do think there will be more fans at Hongkou, but I’m not sure how to guage excitement, I don’t see it bringing in 10,000 new fans though. I think Anelka’s the perfect kind of player for the Chinese Super League, in a lot of ways he’s the football equivalent of Stephon Marbury.
S: It’s hard to predict, but last year was a particularly lean one for Shenhua crowd wise, in recent years the average has been around 14-15k, so we aren’t talking all that many more, plus you have to remember how quickly things change in Chinese football, look no further than the rapid rise your own side’s gates, for which there wasn’t even a cataylst signing like Anelka.
B: The catalyst was 1. a return to Worker’s Stadium and 2. a belief that we were on the verge of winning a title (which we did that year).
S: But a belief that the title would be won is not as strong a motivator as signing a big name like Anelka, so, credit where credit is due, Beijingers got behind their team without the need for star names.
B: I’d like to go back to the Anelka-Marbury comparison, I think it’s valid. With Anelka, you’ve gotten a big name, but never a superstar. A guy who was always viewed highly, but most would say never reached his potential. I can see how coming to China will help stroke his ego, he’ll finally be “the man”.
S: Right, he was always a bit of a misfit. But there’s no doubt he is a top player, I think the perception is that he didn”t reach his potential, but lets look the facts – 69 caps for France and 14 goals, he had 90 million UK pounds of transfer fees lavished upon him, he’s been a success at every club he’s played at with the possible exception of Real Madrid, check his career stars on wiki. I’m not familiar with Marbury beyond the fact he’s a former NBA player who supports Guoan and play’s for Guoan’s basketball team. But seems Marbury was a bit of a failure before he came to China – correct?
B: Marbury had a lot of expectations on him, he was to be a superstar in the NBA and while he was really good, he never reached that level. He came to China and was treated in a way he hadn’t been treated in the US for many years, I think it will be the same for Anelka when he arrives in Shanghai.
S: Yeah I think your comparison is an interesting one, and worthy, but I think Anelka just has this image of being a bit of a rebel or someone who never quite cut it, when the facts suggest otherwise. He has achieved way more than most players I think.
B: Very true, there’s the attitude that he was always somehow lacking, he was never really a fan favorite at any of his stops, but his stats are very impressive. My concern is that Shenhua don’t seem to have a manager yet (unless I’m mistaken), and the rumor is signing Joel Griffiths from Guoan is a done deal, to me, this would mean you’ll be playing with two strikers or dealing with one very pissed off player.
S: I have to admit I had the same perception of Anelka until now, but when I looked at his record, it is actually pretty good, its also telling that its at Chelsea where he is now, that he’s had probably his longest and most sustained period of success, probably no coincidence that he’s a bit older and wiser now. About Griffiths, you must be a bit pissed off about that?
B: Meh. Joel Griffiths is a great player, he’s scored 8 goals or more each of the past three years and he’s somebody who never stops trying, but I’m confident if Guoan isn’t signing him, there’s a reason and that they intend on finding someone even better. I wish him good luck at Shenhua, but I’m nervous for him there.
S: He seems like a good pro, and I think he will be an asset to Shenhua, but, well he’s no Riascos. Why are you nervous for him?
B: Like I said, unless I’m mistaken, Shenhua doesn’t have a manager yet (or am I wrong?). In his three years with Guoan, he played in 76 of 90 matches (and he probably would have played in more if not being suspended for long periods of time). I don’t think he’s planning on going to Shenhua to sit on the bench.
S: Yeah we could do a lot worse, he is a proven player at Chinese Super League level and that can only be good. Jean Tigana is about to be unveiled as manager I believe, he featured on Shenhua’s club TV channel, he was filmed inside Hongkou chatting casually with some club figures. But this raises another point, I think its wrong of Zhu Jun to go signing players for the the club, that’s the head coach’s job.
B: I don’t think it’s a big deal, few Chinese Super League managers have the control that Pacheco has over his club, but I do hope that there was a great deal of communication between Tigana and Zhu, and I’m not sure if that’s the case.
S: I would doubt it. I would imagine Tigana will not be complaining to have someone of Anelka’s calibre in the squad, come to think of it, I believe Tigana and Anelka might both be coming to Shanghai on the strength of the other party also being there.
B: I definitely think that’s the case. While there’s all this Shanghai Anelka love, Dalian could very quickly overshadow it, what say you about Drogba potentially going to newcomers Dalian Aerbin?
S: I have a harder time believing that, I looked online the other day and could find no mention of it in the English news. Drogba coming to Dalian Aerbin would certainly be an even bigger story than Anelka at Shanghai I admit.
B: I agree, Li Ming, the Aerbin GM, appears to have made an offer, but no word on what Drogba or his agent thinks of it yet.
S: I’ve never been to Dalian actually. And I think I’m likely to get there before Drogba does, that’s my verdict.
B: Alright, for the time being, I think you’re right. On the transfer front, Guoan very quietly signed their first foreigner of the close season today, picking up Legia Warsaw’s Manu. I know everyone’s saying who, but I don’t think it’s a surprise that he’s Portuguese. The thing that is surprising is that from his position, body, and even hair, it appears they’ve got the Portuguese Walter Martinez.
S: How bizarre. A Portuguese playing in Warsaw, something about that doesn’t sound quite right.
B: Yeah, I had to run to wikipedia when I heard about it. He doesn’t seem to be a bigtime goal scorer, but he’s got Champions League experience and I have faith in Pacheco. I think we can expect all of Guoan’s signings to be Portuguese or come from the Primeira Liga, Portugal’s top flight.
S: Sounds like the typical calbire of foreign Chinese Super League player, or at least what was typical until this season. That is, spent most of his career with a lower-league team, hard to find much information about him on the internet, statistics usually appear to be very unimpressive.
B: We’ll see, I mean you look at the stats for Martinez, or even our Chinese Super League Player of the Year, Muriqui, and they are very average and unimpressive. You never know who will shine in the Chinese Super League.
S: That is very true. And I always think stats are only part of the picture. So, I think there is another matter we have to discuss – Liaoning withdrawing from the ACL.
B: Yes, we need to get to that topic. I’m very conflicted. I agree that the club got screwed by being forced to qualify, especially when Tianjin get a free pass, but at the same time, you at least have to play the games. It’s hard to see when a player like Zhao Junzhe, who has been so loyal, is at his wit’s end.
S: I agree. Although I can understand their reasons, it’s clearly the wrong decision. It’s also ironic at a time when the Chinese Super League is going banannas on transfer fees to sign star overseas players, some teams claim they can’t afford a few plane tickets to South East Asia.
B: That’s simplifying things a lot, it’s not so much an issue of money, but it was a factor.
S: Is it any more complex that that? I don’t really think so.
B: Liaoning’s claiming they’ll bump their salaries up this year and plans on signing some better foreigners. They are also likely to sell Yu Hanchao for a few million dollars (that ain’t a typo). Money is a factor, but it goes a lot further than plane tickets and it is far from the only factor. The club does not want to participate in the AFC Cup and it didn’t want to go through qualifying.
S: I think it’s unfair that the goalposts were moved on Liaoning, and the AFC cup is not a strong competition by any means, but if I were them, I would have tried to qualify for the ACL, then just entered a reserve team into the AFC cup if they didn’t make it to the ACL. At the end of the day, I think its a poor show from Liaoning. And it certainly won’t help China get their allocation back to 4 teams in the future.
B: I don’t think the AFC will have long memories about it, but you’re right, if they didn’t make it into the ACL, they could have used it as a great experience for their young players. Anyways, how bout talking about the teams that are in the ACL?
S: Yes, a worthy topic. Guangzhou appear to have been drawn in the group of death. What do you think?
B: As a football fan, it’s great, it will make for some excellent matches as I think you’ll see Kashiwa and Guangzhou fighting for the second ticket to the round of 16 (I think we can assume Joenbuk’s getting out of the group). That said, I’m sure the whiners down south are already preparing their excuses why their team got knocked out in the group stage.
S: Yeah, one of our regular commenters and Guangzhou fan Damian posted the other day that Guangzhou’s group was a stone-wall argument for seeding. But I can’t argee, there can’t be an awful big difference between the top four teams in the J-League, and besides, it’s Kashiwa’s first title and I don’t think they have much experience in the ACL, so they might even be easier opponents than the other Japanese sides.
B: Someone’s always going to complain. There are four groups but 5 league champions, so you’re going to screw Thailand? How would you seed a cup winner compared to a league runner up? I’m fine with how they do it, though Gamba Osaka appears to have gotten a gift of a group.
S: It’s true there are some groups easier than others, but I’d hate to see the ACL go the way of the European Champion$ league in terms of making sure the big boy’s get easiest passage possible.
B: True, and actually I think it’s unfair to say Gamba was given a gift, the strongest team in that group’s probably the Uzbek champions Bunyodkor. For neutrals, everyone’s going to be watching Group H.
S: What about Guoan’s group? What’s your thoughts on that?
B: It’ll be fun. Brisbane’s the Aussie champs, so that’ not going to be easy, in Ulsan we got a break, plus it’s very close to Pusan (already researching the road trip), which has direct flights from Beijing so that makes travel for the team easy. The big unknown is the J-League side. To be honest, I know nothing about the other teams in the group, so I can only look at it from a travel and scheduling matter. On that end, I’m very concerned about us playing away at Brisbane (if I’ve understood the schedule right) in the last group match.
S: That is quite a journey. But I think the group games are finished by the summer, so it shouldn’t impact your domestic season too much.
B: Brisbane’s not so bad, and it’s only one away trip, but I look at Tianjin in envy as they get that trip taken care of before the Chinese Super League season begins. Hopefully directly before/after that match at Brisbane in May, we’ll be up against lesser Chinese Super League competition.
S: Do you think Guoan will make much of an impact in next year’s ACL? What about the other Chinese teams?
B: This could be the Guoan fan in me, but I think they’re the most likely to get out of the group stage, though it depends heavily on how Pacheco treats the matches and how important that final match is. I can’t see Tianjin making much of an impact and Guangzhou’s got a difficult group, though I’ll hold off until I see what their final roster looks like.
S: Yeah I would agree with that. So, I think there is one final matter we really need to mention – Shaanxi moving to, apparently, Guizhou.
B: Yes, that seems to be the case.
S: We spoke about this outside the pub, its a real culture clash between what you regard as normal as an American, and me, as someone from the UK, as an absolute taboo. But from the point of view of the future of Chinese football, I think its just common sense not to move teams from cities in any circumstances, never mind the club which has been one of the best supported over the past 5 years or so.
B: I’m not sure exactly how it impacts the future of Chinese football that a team moves. I do think it’s indeed shocking that there’s the possibility no team will play in Xian, one of China’s top football markets, next year.
S: It’s funny how you call it a market. But that is the way these things are looked at these days. However, its very obvious how it impacts the development of the game. To become a prestigeous and prosperous league which players want to play in for reasons besides money, you need history and tradition. Moving teams around destroys that.
B: Well that’s what we’re talking about. Xian’s a hotbed of football fans, but I can’t think of a single famous footballer in the past few years who was from the area. It’s not a region known for developing players. Every few years an NHL team moves, the same’s true in baseball, yet players from all over the world still flock to the league. There are still plenty of teams with history & tradition.
S: There is, but I’d argue football has a stronger sense of tradition and history than the NHL, that’s why it attracts greater numbers of fans and greater number of diehard fans. No disrespect to those sports, but they don’t have the same kind of crowds that football has, and a big part of that is football has a stronger link to its local community. I mean…. what the fuck is a dodger?
B: I think that’s a very UK-centric argument, it’s very easy to have a strong link to the local community when teams are often representing a neighborhood or area instead of an entire city, but the UK’s a small island, so it can have like half the teams in London.
S: Do the teams in the US represent something? What is Utah “Jazz” ? Maybe some of the teams have some kind of link, but seems most of the teams are purely business entites, as soon as profits are down, owners throw the dummy out of the pram and threaten to move, well, if its in the UK, you can’t do that, because people care about it too much, that’s the kind of culture you want to engender.
B: I think that’s hard to say, you can make fun of the some (many) of the team names, but there are also those that have a meaning attached to the city, or if not have developed one over the years. Plus, US teams are far more active in their communities than UK clubs, at least EPL teams. Your view’s a romantic one, and may have been the case in the pre-EPL era, but things have changed a lot. Plus, the American sporting scene offers a lot of options, whereas in the UK it’s football and, well…football.
S: I don’t want to shit talk about American sports teams. They bring a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people and there is nothing wrong and everything right about that in itself. Plus, the UK football scene, at least the EPL, has definately changed for the worse. But UK fan culture is probably the most influential in the world, the reason for that is its deep sense of history and attachment to the game
B: I would argue in part the reason for that is its blackest time, the hooliganism which tends to almost be glorified by some overseas. That said, you have a point and all, but those clubs have many, many years of history behind them. When talking about Shaanxi, it’s not like we’re talking about a team that had even 10 years of history in that city, it’s not the end of the world that they are moving. I’d be up in arms if we were talking about Guoan or Liaoning or Shandong or Shanghai, but we’re talking about a team that hasn’t been in Xian for very long and I guarantee you, whether it’s in 2012 or in 3 years or 5 years, whenever a team returns to Xian, the fans will pick right up in supporting it.
S: Agree, moving teams doesn’t make history and tradition impossible to create, but it clearly makes it a lot harder. Shaanxi themselves are a “moved team”, formerly Inter Shanghai, but moving them again just puts the history back to square one really. And another team will be sure to move to Xian before long, so really, what is the point of moving the team? Just sell it to whoever wants to run it.
B: It’s just a fact of life in the Chinese Super League. Every few years we’ll see a team relocate. If you look at it, the past few seasons have been pretty stable.
S: Hopefully they will eventually understand that moving teams should at the very best be a last resort. Moving Shaanxi is plain crazy, they’ve gotten around 30,000 a week for the past 5 years or so, considering that is for a team in a sports league which is the subject of national ridicule, not to mention the fact that Shaanxi have won absolutely fuck-all in their history, it proves its insanity.
B: Simmer down there, Shanghai’s not going to Anhui, you have nothing to worry about. Yes, it’s stupid if you think fans matter and these teams are something more than a subsidiary of their business to the owners.
S: I think people who want to move football teams fundamentally do not understand the soul of the game. Such people shuouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a club.
B: At the end of the day, what we’re supporting are rich Chinese peoples’ tax breaks and advertisements.
S: Yeah. Can’t argue with that.
B: “Soul of the game”? “Glamorous team”? You’re really trying to make me throw up today, aren’t you?
S: Haha. I knew we would have this franchise v sports club argument one day…
B: I know where you’re coming from, but even in the UK nowadays, it’s a pretty naive way of thinking at the top flight.
S: I dont think so – no matter how much they’ve sold themselves out, EPL clubs simply would not move.
B: They wouldn’t move, but what connection do the fans have to the club? For that matter, what connection do the players have? The fans love their team, but the feeling ain’t mutual. To the clubs, the fans are just a source of income.
S: Totally agree.
B: They won’t move, but they’ll leave older venues in the city center to move to large, soulless stadiums in suburbs far away from their traditional base. The UK’s so small, that’s pretty much the same thing as moving, isn’t it?
S: Agree on that as well. But the soul of UK football is still there buried underneath all the glam and filth and pretense, and its still a huge inspiration to other fans, especially those in new and emerging leagues like the one we talk about each week, and the likes of the MLS, which, being honest, probably now has a more vibrant fan culture than the corporate wankfest EPL.
B: And yet, the MLS has had teams move and disband and yet it’s still grown into something.
Anyways, I think we should end here or else this will go on all day.
S: Yes, but they respected the tradition as far as possible, for example when San Jose moved to Houston, they kept San Jose’s records intact for when they returned to the league, so Houston was effectively an expansion team. The people running the MLS are extremely smart, they recognize what makes football special is the closeless to the community, hence they put three local rivals in the Pacifc NW….Yeah so, yeah you are right. This would go on forever. We don’t really disagree on much, its interesting when we do.
B: Any final thoughts?
S: I think the close season so far has almost been as exciting as the Chinese Super League itself, although I’m biased obviously, but one thing is for sure, we are in for some more serious hardcore business in the transfer market, the madness has just begun, and next year is shaping up to be the most exciting Chinese Super League season yet.
B: Alright, mine is just a suggestion to Manu, please where a big ass cup everywhere you go, protect yourself, we want to see you on the pitch next year instead of in the Awards as a waste.
S: Hahaha. Buster Gonad the second? You may never hear the end of that most British of jokes, B!
B: Cheers my man, this has been the most contentious pub chat I think we’ve had, but it was fun.
Glamour team, glamour team…You’ll be reminded of that line when we finish above you next year.
S: Yes, its all good. Glamour team, well, regardless of finishing positions, everyone in China know’s Beijing has no style.
B: I’d add an insult, but it’s time to roll myself out of the pub. The wife’s calling for dinner.
S: Cheers mate, until next time.