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Shanghai Shenhua – Beijing Guoan: 18 years of loathing

The following is a verbatim translation of a story which appeared on Sina entitled “18 years of loathing” and which detailed a recent TV football programme.  It gives an account of Shanghainese football icon Xie Hui and Chinese football pundit Ji Yuyang’s discussion of why this seasons China Derbies are going to be even more exciting. Namely, the prospect of new Shenhua signing Joel Griffiths and Guoan recruit Mao Jianqing appearing for the first time against the clubs where they used to be heroes. The pair also look over China Derby history, as Xie Hui unfondly recalls a certain infamous match which took place far back in the mists of time. With the most significant Chinese Super League season about to kick off in just over a month’s time, consider this piece a starting point for understanding the dynamics and history of China’s most significant football rivalry.

Former national team striker and Shanghai Shenhua idol Xie Hui and famous Chinese football pundit Ji Yuyang appeared together on Five Star Sports “Five Star Football” show on the theme “Football strangers in stranger lands”.  And of course, its only natural to bring up Mao Jianqing and Joel Griffiths when discussing this topic as they are both about to join clubs where they will find their surroundings very strange.

a sad Wang Dalei with the Guoan players celebrating in the background

Shenhua’s Wang Dalei disconsolate at last year’s China Derby clash at Gongti

Shanghai Shenhua and Beijing Guoan are Chinese football’s most infamous enemies. Since the beginning of professional football in China in 1994, player movements between the two teams have been extremely rare. However on January 1 this year, Mao Jianqing joined Beijing, and just 18 days later, Shenhua announced the signing of Joel Griffiths – both signings seem to be an indication that, that there has been a slight easing of the deadly rivalry between the clubs from the start of this year. Although Mao Jianqing did not transfer from Shenhua to Guoan directly, he is the first Shanghainese player to sign for Beijing, whilst Griffthis is the first player in Chinese football history to move directly from Guoan to Shenhua.

There is much longstanding bitterness in the stadium when Guoan take on Shenhua, since they are old enemies – the players never need any extra encouragement for such games. Five Star Sport’s anchorman asked Xie Hui “Is it true to say this?”

Xie Hui replied, “I remember that the club owners always attached more importance to these games – win bonuses were at least doubled. From 1995 right up to now, there is still this kind of relationship with these two cities, every country has a similar kind of situation.”

Ji Yuyang gave his opinion, “I remember one year, Shenhua hosted Guoan and the match accounted for more than half of the clubs receipts for the whole season.”

Indeed, player transfers between these clubs are few, after all they are bitter rivals. Griffthis is the first Guoan player to play for Shenhua. Furthermore, Guoan have had three former Shenhua players turn out for Beijing, Mao Jianqing becomes the fourth, but the first native Shanghainese to play for Guoan, this pair both are the first of their kind.

Shanghainese bad boy Mao Jianqing soon to pull on Guoan green

The program featured a clip of Griffthis and his three seasons with Guoan. Despite not being a high-scoring striker, he was a special player, and although he will be 33 this year he is still playing. He scored 31 goals for Beijing with his neat footwork and a high shots-on-target ratio. He receives the ball very calmly, and is especially effective on the right side of the penalty box, where he seems omnipresent, using all kinds of techniques to control different kinds of passes. At 1.81cm tall he can’t be considered very sturdy, but he is great in the air often popping up unexpectedly to score. During games he scores more with his head. If more superstars arrive at Shenhua and Griffthis becomes not such a key player, he can still do an able job as foil for Anelka.

After watching the reel, the presenter asked his honoured guests if he thought Griffthis and Mao Jianqing would be suited to their new environments. Ji Yuyang replies, “I think Mao would be more suited because Beijing would be his fifth club and has performed well at all of them. Mao is a bit similar to Anelka is that he drifted all over the pitch. His ability to fit in at Beijing is high, Griffthis has spent all his China career at Beijing I don’t know how he will get along at Shenhua.”

Xie Hui gave an opposing point of view, “Those words are reasonable but I think on the contrary, Griffthis will adjust more quickly, a person like him doesn’t need any special requirement, but Mao Jianqing’s type needs tactics to be built around him. I think his best spell was at Shenzhen, but playing bigger teams like Shandong, Shenhua and Beijing, his shortcomings were exposed, whereas Griffthis performances were good in all games – he was expert at finding weak points in the penalty box and was an efficient scorer.”

Love and hate – she won’t be kissing Joel Griffiths when she next sees him

During the program a segment was also shown detailing Mao’s situation since arriving at Beijing. Having drifted around for quite some time, Mao had little choice but to become Guoan’s first Shanghainese player. In the interview, Mao couldn’t help but reveal “Because Shaanxi moved south I didn’t want to remain there, Guoan seemed more steady, and Nanchang also made an offer. Actually I would have prefered more choices, but only these two clubs made offers. I of course would have liked the chance to go back to Shanghai, but I have no such choice, only to cross over and serve the club which wants me.”

With Shanghainese being a distinct identity, can he blend into his new team? This is a question many are focused on. The Beijing media describe Mao as an “atypical Shanghainese”, but the popular and fiery coach Jamie Pacheco appears to have confidence that everyone will see Mao blend into the squad, and Mao hopes he can improve his performances at Guoan.

Over the past two seasons, Mao Jianqing has scored seven goals, three of which were scored against Shanghai Shenhua, so this season Shenhua versus Guoan is sure to be a match brimming with points of interest. In the second half of the season, Shenhua v Guoan is also well worth looking forward to. The presenter asks, “When Shenhua take on Beijing in the second half of the season, who do you think will score – Mao or Griffthis?”

Ji Yuyang said, “I feel that Mao Jianqing’s desire to score will be a little greater. It seems that Griffthis feelings for Guoan still run deep, but everyone can see that Mao really wants to score, now his goals will be Guoan’s. Mao Jianqing is a bit of a show-off, the more he is in the spotlight the better his performances are.”

Xie Hui added, “Besides – his record of scoring against former clubs is impressive.”

The anchorman said, “His character is a double-edged one though. Should he start sulking, will the Guoan coach stop selecting him?”

Xie Hui replied, “It seems most likely Griffthis will be playing as striker, especially if no other striker is coming (seems to be a reference to Drogba – ed) , then he definitely will be. As far as the hunger to score goals is concerned, Mao Jianqing isn’t a marksman, and I’d rather have a player who scores more than 10 goals a season.”

Shenhua ultras let rip under the metro line after a 90th minute China Derby victory last season

Ji Yuyang added, “Beijing Guoan are a strange team, a lot of awkward characters came but became more normal after they joined, for example Xu Liang had a bad relationship with the media at Guangzhou, but became a key player for Beijing.”

Xie Hui added, “I think Beijing is a place where they like this type, I think the authentic Beijing taste is for showy types who like to put on a show.”

Next, the presenter asked, “Why has Mao Jianqing transferred between so many clubs?”

Ji Yuyang said, “I heard a coach mention that Mao is a useful player, but later he becomes hard to use. At the start, a lot of coaches dig out his past, then afterwards, few give clear reasons why he is hard to deploy. It’s also not clear how Pacheco can use him successfully.”

It is said on Weibo that Shenhua buying Griffthis is more provocative than Beijing buying Mao. Ji Yang gave his point of view on this, “Griffthis was a hero at Beijing, not only was he was a striker but he was also a handsome guy and settled at the club, the important point is that Guoan decided early on to extend his contract, so there was a scramble for his services – Guoan fans feel this is the bigger upset.”

However Xie Hui gave a different view, “I think professional sports should be like this – Guoan’s board started to work on a new contract for him early, last year they renewed his contract but this year not, I can only explain it to you but saying they did not make the player feel like he was in an important position, but now, he’s gone, we can only say there is a problem with the team management’s plans for the whole team. The fans are not happy about not keeping this player, but the following point is the most important.”

A short reel was shown looking back at past Beijing – Shanghai matches, which are known as the “China Derby”. The animosity and resentment to the fans is not limited to inside the stadium, the games are greatly anticipated by those outside the stadium too. Over the past 18 years, despite the ever-changing line-ups of those involved on the pitch, and despite fans born in the 60s and 70s first watching the games when professional football started, being joined by those born in the 80s and 90s, the charm of the Beijing – Shanghai games has never been lower. The smell of gunpowder is stronger and stronger. In all the games from the old Jia-A to the Chinese Super League in which the two have crossed swords, Shenhua are in the ascendency, but Beijing have a “9-1” trump card in their hand, so each time they play Shenhua these past events must be mentioned, but carefully looking at when one side has won by just one goal shows that Shanghai Shenhua usually have the last laugh.

The studio present and his two esteemed guests both recalled many Beijing – Shanghai games from the past. The anchor man asked Xie Hui was he present when Beijing beat Shanghai 9-1? Xie Hui said, “I played in the first half, afterwards I turned off my phone, this kind of game led me to turn off everything for a week afterwards, at the time a lot of people tried to contact me, no matter if they were journalists, friends, or relatives.”

At that time Ji Yuyang was a journalist and recalls the scene more clearly. He said, “This old story has been talked about endlessly, I will just say a little, after the match we went back to the hotel where we saw two spectacles – as soon as the Shenhua team bus stopped at the hotel, everyone stopped what they were doing and stood motionless as if they were looking at extraterrestrials, for sure thinking how can anyone lose to many goals? Also, I heard that one head coach bawled his eyes out.”

Finally, Ji Yuyang also added something about match tickets for this season, “With Anelka coming the number of tickets available will be limited, but price-to-quality ratio will be extremely high.”

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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