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Pub Talk: Into the unknown – exploring the mind of Nicolas Anelka

In this week’s Pub Talk your intrepid correspondents go where no man has gone before – the mind of Nicolas Anelka. The Frenchman was up to his old tricks again in the eyes of many, but Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra are more sympathetic than most, knowing the ins-and-outs of Chinese football as they do. In the pub this week there’s a bit of draft coming from somewhere, as goalkeeper Yu Ziqian’s massive brain fart amuses all, as the pair ask the inevitable question – who can stop Guangzhou. Speaking of which Marcello Lippi’s first game is assessed, as Shanghai Ultra struggles to remember what goals are and last week’s donkey is back in the bar, but squeezed into a Shenhua number 9 shirt. That’s what’s in the pub this week – read on to be amused and informed.

Bcheng: We’re back in the pub, its a fine day up north, but why do I have a feeling talk in the pub is going to be focused on the Whore of the East?

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah, seriously, again.

B: Well, how bout we start out by looking back at last weekend before getting into the nitty-gritty about what’s going on down south?

S: Yeah. How about the goal Jiangsu scored against Aerbin? That’s the stupidest goal I’ve ever seen.

B: The sad thing is its not the first time Yu Ziqian’s made a brainless decision. Earlier in the season, he stepped out of his box while holding the ball.

S: It’s laughable. Why is he paid to play professional football?

B: Because horrible gaffes aside, he’s a damn good keeper who, if China had a capable national team manager, would get a look at. That said, I’ve proposed Guoan fans greet him with whistles and a chant of “give us a goal” when he comes in front of the north stand tonight.

S: Haha. I once saw a goalkeeper accidentally head the ball into his own net once in a Chinese Super League clip.

B: It’s shocking the mistake he made, what’s more shocking is the fan coming out of the stands to attack the referee.

S: And more shocking still, no-one seems to react very quickly to the fan.

B: Well, unlike in a lot of places, the fan’s purpose was to attack the referee, so I don’t think anyone cared.

S: Crazy stuff. There were some big results last weekend. Shandong aren’t looking very clever at the moment.

B: It’s really shocking how bad Shandong is this season, there haven’t been that many changes in the lineup and I thought their Dutch manager would have them contending. Instead, they’re at the bottom of the table.

S: I always find Shandong’s crowds very strange. They seem to fluctuate numbers-wise in a way which doesn’t appear linked with success on the pitch.

B: Attendance wise, they’ve struggled in recent years like a lot of teams. Outside of Beijing, the “old guard” has really been hurting over the past three or four seasons, even though they’ve had some decent seasons on the pitch.

S: Attendances in general in the Chinese Super League are a very interesting subject.

B: This past weekend was one of the better ones, with one exception, I believe they were all five digits. What did you think of Lippi’s debut in Guangzhou?

S: Seemed very Italian – a dull, defensive and a 1-0 victory against a team they had the talent to score much more against.

B: Qingdao did pack it in and sat back playing defense. Guangzhou definitely controlled the game, but they’ll need to do better. Perhaps Shandong will finally be able to put things together when they host the Cantonese club this weekend.

S: Yeah, Shandong have been a mystery as you said. I see Beijing finally got a victory on the road. How about that?

B: It couldn’t come at a better time or against a better side. Hopefully this game will serve as a statement, a big match on the road against another team with title aspirations.

S: Who have you got?

B: I’m talking about last week, against Changchun, they still have a game in hand and if they would have beat Beijing and then won the game in hand (home vs Shandong), they’d be where Guoan now is. With Guoan winning, I think that the title picture’s shaping up, its Guangzhou at the top with three teams legitimately chasing.

S: I wouldn’t have thought Changchun have title aspirations.

B: They have a great side that always seems to silently find a way to be near the top of the table. I think they are still missing one or two parts, and for whatever reason the past few seasons Wang Dong and Du Zhenyu haven’t been quite the same, but Changchun’s a good side.

S: Well, I hope they can join the chasing pack, with Barrios coming to Guangzhou, I can’t see them giving up their lead at the top easily.

B: I’m still holding out hope. I keep coming back to the fact they have three very tough games going into the season’s halfway point, if they walk away with six or more points, I think it’s pretty much over.

S: Yeah, I have to very reluctantly agree. As a matter of fact,  if the truth be told, I can see Guangzhou winning the title by an even bigger margin this year – Barrios is a huge signing, and try as I might, I can’t really imagine Lippi stuffing things up.

B: That said, I honestly can’t see them picking up six points from those matches (vs Jiangsu, @Liaoning, vs Beijing)

S: I hope not. But I mean, who is going to win the league instead of them. Sainty? You lot? I don’t think so.

B: Lippi has the break to familiarize himself with the team, but a shocking number of the players are going to be in Europe for national team friendlies. Right, I think at the end of the day, Evergrande’s going to win the league again, I can see them slipping up a bit, but they won’t completely fall apart. This is very much my “green goggles”, but I think Guoan’s the only side that has a serious chance of challenging them.

S: To be fair I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily green goggles, Beijing are up there in the table, seems reasonable to suggest they can keep pace. The big question I’m interested in seeing an answer to right now is whether Jiangsu can overcome their recent form slump and get back to winning ways. If they can, they will be up there come the end of the season.

B: I’m sure Jiangsu can work past this slump, this weekend they return home, which used to be a real fortress, to play Qingdao, but I don’t think they have what it takes to win the league. They have really come together and had a great team spirit since the halfway point last year, they’re doing a lot with a little, and when Deng Zhuoxiang returns, he’ll help, but the reality is they don’t have enough talent to keep the form needed over the next 18 matches. I think the same can be said about R&F, the only team that has what it takes and has the experience to boot, is Guoan.

S: Right, we can’t discount them either. But I think Jiangsu will finish above them.

B: I’d agree right now. R&F are one of the few teams with big bucks and we’ll have to see how they spend them, but if I had to predict, it’s going to be Evergrande, Guoan, Jiangsu in the ACL spots this year. That said, I did predict the Evergrande turmoil would knock them, if only temporarily, out of the top spot at the halfway point, I still think that’s very possible.

S: Yep, I can go along with all of that. But Lippi has won World Cups etc etc… even with the China chaos factor, I can’t imagine him not being a success here with such a talented squad. The big question is whether they can succeed in Asia.

B: I think the lead Lee spotted him, though only four points, will be enough in the end. I don’t think we’ll see them get past Tokyo, but I think we could very well still see one of their foreigners dumped.

S: That’s a certainty with Barrios arriving. I think it has to be Cleo – Conca’s ban-that-never-was seems to have been swept under Evergrande’s big red carpet.

B: I mean outside of Barrios, I think its possible they’ll make another change.

S: So that would mean two foreigners leaving.

B: Right. And fuck Conca, that little diving Argie cunt. I think Lee got it right this week when he said he thought Conca was only worth half what Evergrande paid for him and that Lee was very much against Conca joining the team.

S: That’s a rather crude outburst there B, you almost sound like a UK fan.
B: Yeah, sorry for that. Actually I’m not, fuck Conca! And while I’m at it, fuck Yang Rui, that brainless CCTV prick and his xenophobic bullshit against foreigners.

S: No need to apologise, I’m glad it’s not me for once 🙂 Yeah. It’s complete shite, most people in the world are quite decent regardless of creed. I think everyone should watch this cartoon of CCTV fuckwit Yang Rui.

B: I guess now it’s about time to deal with your lot? Walking away from Zhengzhou without  a point and again failing to once again score a goal has to be rough. How long has it been since Shanghai scored a goal?

S: What’s a goal?

B: There’s that famed Scottish wit.

S: You need it to be a Shenhua fan these days. Our last goal was scored way back in the mists of time by Qiu Tianyi, a defender, up at Liaoning, I think three weeks ago?

B: So its been awhile, and things don’t get any easier with a high scoring Guizhou side coming to Hongkou this weekend.

S: There’s a lot going on at Shenhua just now as you saw. There was the press conference yesterday, it seems Anelka feels he was mis-quoted about retiring if Shenhua brought a new manager in, and he’s claiming there’s been a lot of communication difficulties.

B: I can imagine that he’s not really in the loop. I’ve seen reports the new manager might be in Shanghai as early as tomorrow.

S: I think Batista will arrive tomorrow, and “observe” proceedings this weekend, before taking over after the upcoming break.

B: With Anelka observing too, where are the goals going to come from this weekend? Is the Griff fit?

S: Griff is out I think, Manset is a donkey, I confidently predict Shenhua will fail to score yet again.

B: Is Drogba going to be the saviour that keeps Shenhua in the top flight?

S: There’s no doubt Drogba will make a big impact. Everything on the interwebs is pointing to his iminent signing at Shenhua. But we desperately need a tough tackling midfielder. Only then will Shenhua make any kind of progress up the table.

B: I agree Drogba would have a massive impact, but I’d also add a word of caution, Anelka was supposed to make a “big impact”, he did, however it’s certainly not what we were expecting.

S: Yeah fair point, but Anelka and Drogba are different characters. Anelka is a great player, but not someone you want to rely on in a tight spot, such as now, Drogba on the other hand seems more rounded and a stronger player in all ways imaginable. I also don’t think Anelka’s recent spat with the club will make much difference, Drogba seems wiser and more enlightened, and probably understands better than anyone the folly of making Anelka player-manager.

B: True, they are of a different caliber of quality, but also personality, Anelka’s going to play hard no matter what. Slip of the tongue there, I mean to say Drogba.

S: Of course you did. Also I have to stick my neck out here and defend Anelka, re: his contacting the local press and airing all his grievances with the club. I know a lot of people won’t agree, our other blue-googled man at has already made his views clear on the site with his comments the other day – but the criticism of Anelka at the moment is really based on whether you buy into this media-created character of “Le Sulk” which I don’t. Anelka is a rebel for sure, and he’s been out of line in his career a few times for sure. But I think most of what he said was very true in his interview.

B: If you spell whether wrong one more time, it’s going to drive me up a fucking wall.

S: Argh. I have some kind of ADD when it comes to spelling, some words I always get wrong, bad habits, etc.

B: Obviously we’re not in the back room dealing, but Anelka, if in title or not, is player-manager and if there’s going to be a managerial change, one would think the club would consult him, not only as the current/interim manager, but also as the team’s star player. If he’s being told one thing by the club and then reading something else in the news, I can understand his frustration. That said, he really kinda went hard at his teammates, and in his comments about the midfielder he thought the club was lacking, I found him to be offering a perfect description of Cao Yunding.

S: I don’t really see where the harsh criticism of his team-mates is. As far as I can see, he just said they were young, and the records of the attacking players aren’t impressive, because they have only been playing a couple of seasons – that is all very true. However, you are right about Cao Yunding, he must be pretty pissed off with Anelka saying the side lacks a creative midfielder, that is the main point where I totally disagree with Anelka.

B: Okay, but he’s talking about the number of goals Cao and Feng have scored in their career, but this year Anelka’s only scored one more than them, plus they are midfielders. To say that it’s all down to him not getting the service is wrong. I might be a traditionalist, but a striker’s purpose is to score goals.

S: I agree completely. I do think Anelka is wrong in a few areas. But lets look at it from his point of view. He comes over here, albeit on huge money, and finds himself basically in an under-23 team. He gives the club a load of suggestions about who else to sign, but they totally ignore him, and sign a total donkey upfront beside him and a crocked Aussie, Then they sign Tigana, who ends up having the whole squad revolt against him. So Anelka takes on a double work load for no extra salary and tries to impart his experience onto his young team-mates. But then the club sign up a new manager behind his back and tell him nothing, as well as continue to ignore his suggestions for players to sign, when he knows a damn sight  more about competent players than Zhu Jun does. I’d be pretty pissed off if I were Anelka, he’s not blameless here, but I think he’s got good reason to vent his issues, and I’m glad he has, the club appears to be run on a feudal basis.

B: I don’t know how much communication there was between him and the club, but he knew what he was coming into when he joined Shenhua, this was a club that was struggling. I agree that he’s not entirely to be blamed for the current situation, but what it comes down to for me, outside of whose in the wrong, is the fact he’s simply not performing on the pitch.

S: Absolutely. Although I can sympathize to some extent when he says that Shenhua are lacking in certain areas, this time last year a fat guy from the Argentinian second division had scored a barrowload of goals with more or less the same team supplying him.

B: Exactly, two goals at this point is a joke.

S: It is, there’s no getting away from that. I saw a survey on the Chinese web, the majority of fans want Anelka to stay and help develop the younger players. But I think everyone now realises Anelka isn’t manager material, at the very least, not at this time.

B: I also am not sure if he’s really the one to be teaching the young players, how willing and patient he is.

S: That is hard to tell. But he does seem to have the respect of the squad, to be honest I think this will blow over, this kind of communication issue is part cultural, Chinese as we know don’t like to be the bearers of bad news to people’s faces, so they haven’t told him about the new manager yet, whilst I don’t know much about Batista other than he was Argentina manager for a while, I think his arrival will be a change for the better, once Drogba finally signs as it seems he will, and if we can get a decent midfielder, I think Anelka can just concentrate on playing, that is after all what he was brought here to do, this will blow over I believe and I expect Shenhua will finish the season somewhere mid-table or possibly higher depending on if Drogba actually comes and how he fits in.

B: I think that’s a good point. The title race is pretty much out of the question and an Asian spot is probably beyond reach, but the majority of the table is still pretty tight and even just a single win could see them really jump up the table. That said, it ain’t coming this weekend.

S: Shenhua appear to have no strikers fit this weekend. I confidently predict they will fail to score at home for a fifth consecutive game.

B: I have a feeling it’s not going to be pretty.

S: I was talking with Steve earlier. For the first time in a long time, I am not particularly looking forward to the game. In fact, I dislike Sunday night games.

B: Guoan’s playing on Friday night, so far they’re undefeated on Fridays.

S: Friday night games are good if you can knock off early for the day. Who are you playing and what’s your take on your sides upcoming game?

B: Beijing has Dalian Aerbin, I can’t wait to greet Yu Ziqian and am looking forward to seeing Yu Dabao, who seems very exciting this season and who I regret we missed out on signing.
Though I’m thinking it should be an easy 2-0 kinda night, hopefully with Piao Cheng, brimming with rage at not being picked for the national team, scoring a goal.

S: Speaking of which, how about the chinese squad?

B: Obviously, I think Piao should have been in it, but I’m actually happy he isn’t, this way he won’t get injured. Beyond that, I would have wished for a much younger squad and for the likes of Zheng Zhi and Sun Xiang, who’ve been pretty useless, to be dumped, but I think Camacho, returning to Spain, doesn’t have enough faith in the young players and doesn’t want to embarrass himself on his homecoming

S: I think the time for worrying about embarrassment for matters related to the national team has long since passed, time to blood young players, there’s nothing else for it.

B: Honestly, who cares? These matches are beyond meaningless.

S: Yeah but they are useful, otherwise how is China going to have any idea about how to build their squad, especially when they don’t have any competitive games for god knows how long.

B: But with few exceptions, Camacho isn’t really experimenting with anyone this time. There are some new names in the roster, but if he just keeps playing the same old guys, with no regard for whether or not they’re in form, what’s the point.

S: Agree, Zheng Zhi is past it. So, anything else to bring up in the pub this week?

B: I think its time to close it down for now.

S: Yeah. That’s all folks!

B: Cheers, my man.

S: Cheers mate, see you next time.

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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