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Pub Talk: Confusion in Shanghai

NOTE: Pub Talk took place before Nicolas Anelka announced he was Shenhua’s new player-manager…

Another eventful week in the world of Chinese football means there’s much to discuss in the latest edition of Pub Talk. The coaching mass exodus and subsequent bizarre goings-on at Shenhua dominate the agenda, with confusion being the order of the day in Shanghai as Tigana fails to appear at a press conference with Anelka holding court instead.  Guangzhou and UEFA are in Shanghai Ultra’s sights this week, whilst Bcheng tries to wind him up about Shenhua’s under-achieving. Shandong v Beijing is highlighted as this weeks to-watch game, with the 2010 champion’s chances for this season coming under the microscope along with Antar. That’s what’s on offer in this week’s Pub Talk.

B: The pub is a very busy place today, especially where you’re sitting, as rumors are flying about the coaching changes in Shanghai. What’s the latest word in Shanghai?

S: The situation is one of confusion at the moment. The three French coaches Tigana brought have been fired, Anelka is now on the coaching staff (but Tigana is still manager says the Chinese media). However this was undermined when Anelka appeared at a press conference in place for Tigana yesterday afternoon saying he believed Shenhua could win the championships.

B: Well, now four new coaches are in place, five if you include the “promotion” of Anelka to Tigana’s coaching staff. What’s Nic gonna do?

S: That is a good question. He is an introverted fellow who doesn’t have an instructors personality. But I do think the Chinese players are impressed by his professionalism and look up to him,

B: Honestly, do you think anything is going to be different? As someone who speaks French and as captain, I’m sure Anelka already had a close relationship with Tigana. To me this appears to be a change in name only.

S: Who knows. But what we can say is that there are now four new foreign coaches at Hongkou and the three who Tigana picked are offski. That suggests strongly that all is not good behind the scenes.

B: Well, Shenhua did alright last weekend, it wasn’t a top performance, but they kept pace with Hangzhou and created a few solid chances. Are expectations too high? I think they’re right about where they should be considering the tough opening schedule.

S: No they aren’t. Regardless of Shenhua’s top-heavy squad and the tactical problems have highlighted several times this season, you don’t sign a top international striker and then only take five points from your first give games. Shenhua have had a tough start, but this is the Chinese Super League and its reasonable to expect Anelka, and Shenhua’s other expensive signings like Griffthis, to have made a bigger impact.

B: So the blame’s on them?

S: I think the blame is on Zhu Jun for buying three strikers and not investing in more defensive players, and also Tigana for his bizarre team selections. The squad has the talent to win the Chinese Super League.

B: That’s a bold statement, but the way the league’s going this year, it is really up for grabs. I don’t think the moves that have been made are going to be enough to get the team on the right track, do you?

S: It’s very hard to say. I have a feeling that sacking the coaches was a compromise move. It strikers me as very odd that the trainers are being made scapegoats here, I can’t remember seeing this type of situation elsewhere before. It suggests that the club isn’t happy with Tigana but didn’t have the balls or wallet to sack him. That said, there are rumours everywhere that Tigana’s non-appearance at th press conference yesterday was because he is negotiating a severance package. And as well he might – its not going to be easy for him going forward when the three coaches he hand-picked to be brought to Shanghai have been fired.

B: Yeah, but why fire four coaches one day and then hire another four (and Anelka makes five) the next day, then bring in a new manager who’d probably want his own coaching staff. Unless the plan is to bring in a Chinese coach who they’re already consulting with.

S: They only fired three coaches on Wednesday, but you are right to suggest that bringing in a Chinese manager could be a possible next move.

B: Okay, my bad, the sources I saw said four. With all that in mind, Shenhua face another team going through its own struggles tonight, and I think for Tianjin, they may be happy it’s a road match.

S: The pressure is on – Tianjin will be hoping to take advantage of Shenhua’s woes. And of course, not ideal preparation for Shenhua.

B: Tianjin have plenty of woes of their own, with fans protesting after having been crushed by Beijing and again in the ACL. They then followed it up by losing to R&F, this might be the right team for Shenhua to get back on track against.

S: Except Shenhua are Tianjin’s bogey team, I think they have only ever beaten us once in the Chinese Super League.

B: You confident the boys in blue will get a result?

S: Not after the bizarre goings-on this week.

B: I just saw Anelka is sniping at Tigana, doesn’t seem like there’s French unity at Shenhua. Difficult days down there, it’s enjoyable from my perspective, that’s for sure.

S: Ha hah. Shut up!

B: Guoan have a tough game as well tonight, Shandong make the short trip north to Worker’s Stadium.
I have my concerns, but Guoan have been a different team at home this year, so I think a result is in the cards.

S: Shandong are mis-firing, they don’t look like a challenging team so far this season.

B: I wouldn’t be so sure, they are mid-table right now, and would be a little higher if not for that goal on the final kick to open up the season in Guiyang. This is a rebuilding year, they have the youngest squad in the league and I think Henk ten Coate is still feeling out his squad.

S: Is Antar still there? He is a great player.

B: He is, and he’s on fire this season, I think he already has two goals and was unlucky to hit the crossbar against Jiangsu last week. The man is a beast, I love to watch him go up against Darko Matic, it’s always a great duel.

S: Ok onto another topic. I saw this today  this kind of thing always makes me angry, what benefit does it bring Chinese football? The champion$ league is a joke.

B: I say lighten up, it makes the fans happy.

S: It’s a competition lacking integrity, UEFA should concentrate on bridging the huge gap between the rich and poor clubs in Europe. Instead of farting about in China carrying the trophy around.

B: Haha, well, I don’t think Platini himself was involved in bringing the trophy to Asia. I think its a great thing to do, a wonderful marketing gimmick, and something the Chinese Super League can learn from. It’s connecting with the fans.

S: They should concentrate on connecting with fans in Europe, not China, it also undermines the ACL, which is most likely UEFA’s aim.

B: The fact Chinese teams can’t get out of the group stage undermines the ACL in China. I don’t think UEFA even knows the ACL exists, and there’s little competition between the two. Back to things that matter, any thoughts on other Chinese Super League matches this weekend? There are a few other exciting clashes.

S: I think Shandong versus you guys is the key game. Evergrande versus Hangzhou catches my eye, I’m predicting a home victory.

B: I think this is one of the better non-derby weeks we’ll see. Beyond the matches we’ve talked about (and you mentioned), we also have Changchun hosting Guizhou and Liaoning going to Jiangsu. All of these should be very exciting matches. It’s going to be a great few days of football, from Friday to Monday there are matches to enjoy.

S: I think so. But what I have a desire to discuss is Guangzhou’s appalling move to try to increase the foreigner limit in the Chinese Super League. Selfish in the extreme, shame on them for even suggesting it.

B: It is really stupid and tone deaf on their part. The Chinese Super League isn’t the European leagues and I think the league did the right thing by laughing them off.

S: I’m rendered speechless by their incredible self-centredness. Chinese football is in the middle of its biggest-ever talent shortage and they want to limit the opportunities for Chinese players to play professional football even further. A disgusting case of self-interest, I’m banishing Evergrande to the sin bin this week, alongside the UEFA commercial empire.

B: Haha, I guess you need something to rant about to keep your sanity with what’s going on in Shanghai. I think it’s time to close the virtual pub and head to the real one, kickoff’s creeping up fast.

S: Haha that is probably true. Yes, its almost time to pull on Shenhua blue and find a pint to quaff.

B: Cheers my man, it’s been fun as always.

S: Indeed it has. Thank you and good night Beijing.

B: Haha, okay, I’m outta here.

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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