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Pub Talk: Vultures circle over China’s 2012 ACL campaign

The guys are back in the pub again, this time doing their best to scare off the vultures circling over Chinese footballs 2012 ACL campaign as Guangzhou have it all to do in the group of death. Another big-money signing is discussed – your experts ask whether he is the best player yet to come to the Chinese Super League, as Shanghai Ultra gets De-ja-vu about the whole thing. Jiangsu continue to amaze your pub-goers, and are held up as a yardstick for Chinese Super League chairmen everywhere. Elsewhere, Shenhua don’t dominate the discussion this week, but its impossible to keep them down, Michael Owen instead of Manset anyone? The weekend’s fixture card isn’t examined in detail – it’s a nondescript looking affair. Meanwhile Bcheng opts for a safer option, and a happier wife, with his away match travel plans this weekend…

Shanghai Ultra: Good evening B. Here we are in the pub again.

Bcheng: Another weekend is almost here, damn that week flew by quickly, huh?

S: Yeah it did. And we saw another huge money transfer during the week, Barrios to Guangzhou. What do you make of that?

B: It’s kind of shocking what Guangzhou did. They’re in first place and Cleo’s been playing well for them, as I think you know all too well after this season, big name signings don’t necessarily mean bigtime success. He’ll have to adjust to the Chinese game and his new teammates. That said, I’m excited to see him play, he’s arguably the best player to ever come to the Chinese Super League.

S: Yeah I think you said it all. I completely agree.

B: Here’s a guy who just won a Bundesliga title, who is 27 years old and still in his prime. It’s a great signing, but I just don’t get why you unsettle the team like this.

S: It is an odd signing in some ways – Guangzhou simply don’t need him. Unless you look at their ACL performances, after a great start they’ve struggled.

B: But it could very well be too late for him to make a difference in the ACL and Cleo’s been scoring goals for them in all competitions.

S: Yeah its strange. They have it all to do in Thailand. And you’d think Cleo, Muriqui and Conca would be enough in the ACL already would you not?

B: The ACL’s no joke, especially with the group they are in. Those foreign players are carrying the team, but performances from the domestic players just aren’t enough

S: It’s worrying considering the number of national team players Guangzhou have. I’m not sure what to make of Chinese clubs ACL failure. I’ve watched plenty of ACL games over the past few seasons and I’m not convinced the Korean and Japanese clubs are that much better. the A-League clubs definitely aren’t. I think Chinese players have a psychological block when it comes to performing against players from other nations, an inferiority complex?

B: I think that has a lot to do with it. I think it comes down to mentality and effort, hell, Guoan almost had a reserve team take down Ulsan’s starters.

S: That’s a good point. Anyway, the ACL is done and dusted for Chinese clubs with the possible exception of Guangzhou, at least they have it in their own hands. We will find out in a couple of weeks.

B: Yeah, but I’m guessing they’re on their way out too.

S: They have it all to do in Thailand. They are capable of winning the match, weather they do or not is another matter of course.

B: Buriram’s a damn good team and they already made Zhang Linpeng look pathetic once.

S: Yeah, they are no mugs despite coming into that group as underdogs. It’s been a group of death indeed – all teams can still qualify on the final day.

B: It’s going to be a quality day of football.

S: Back to the Chinese Super League though, and back to Barrios. I’m getting a feeling of De-ja-vu about all of this.

B: Why’s that?

S: It’s just that last year, Guangzhou led at the halfway point with a modest lead, and then brought in a super-star signing which pretty much led to them sewing up the title before two-thirds of the season was gone.

B: Well, that’s as much due to Guoan’s falling apart as it is to their own success. I don’t see Jiangsu dropping off like Beijing did last year.

S: Jiangsu look the business. They are only one point behind Guangzhou, but have spent considerably less, to say the least.

B: Right, they’re on a hot home streak right now, it’s been well over a year since they last lost in Nanjing. They are more a realistic model for other teams than Evergrande.

S: I’d say Jiangsu is the benchmark for any Chinese Super League team – you don’t need to splash so much cash to get foreign players who can make a big impact, that’s a more sustainable model for Chinese Super League teams in the future.

B: They didn’t spend peanuts on Jevtic, but they didn’t spend crazy amounts either and, at the end of the day, they just got lucky with the guys they brought in gelling with the rest of the squad.

S: Right, we ought to send all Chinese Super League chairmen to Nanjing for a lesson on how to run a club. So what’s happening this weekend which excites you?

B: Well, still on the subject of Jiangsu, it’s really just pure luck. Who fits in and adapts to China, who doesn’t, it’s really impossible to figure out. You look at guys who were at Guoan last year, now they’re in Portugal and Japan lighting it up, while AK, who was a golden boot winner in Serbia, and Reinaldo, who was big in Australia, are both struggling. Of course, just looking at Anelka at Shenhua, it’s pretty obvious how hard it can be.

S: Yeah. China is such a random kind of place, its impossible to predict as you say. It’s always a risk going somewhere else to play football, China adds a whole new dimension to this.

B: Right, anyways, this weekend, there’s little to get excited about, your lot’s match probably is the one to watch for neutrals.

S: I can’t see Shenhua winning away in Liaoning, although Anelka is back and Griffiths too.

B: The weather isn’t going to be bad, but I’d agree, Liaoning’s going to win that one, though it should be a decent match.

S: I don’t know what is going to become of Shenhua’s season, we have a run of “easier” games over the next month or two, but I have a fear that these matches might just show up just how bad Shenhua are.

B: My concern would be if things don’t start picking up soon, it’s easy to see the team go into a downward spiral much like last season’s losing streak. By the way, Liaoning’s got some players out, but they, like Jiangsu, are a model for building smartly, they’ve also brought in some quality foreigners while still living within their means. Miloš Trifunović is the truth.

S: To be honest I think Shenhua have not played that badly this season except against Tianjin, but they have totally failed to live up to expectations. The fans are even starting to openly mock Manset, laughing at him whenever he gets the ball due to his ungainly style. That’s not a good sign, considering how forgiving Chinese fans are to foreign players most of the time.

B: I wasn’t really impressed with Shenhua when they came to Gongti, though I do think they played okay against Jiangsu and Hangzhou. But that brings up an interesting point, are fans forgiving of foreign players? I think its a strange situation when it comes to foreign players, fans either love them or ride them like crazy, Guoan’s going through that right now.

S: You mean there are foreign players the fans give a lot of stick to? Shenhua were poor at Gongti, and the goals they scored were due to defensive lapses. I still don’t know what to make of Shenhua so far. Bozic isn’t any better than the Chinese players, and Manset is a joke. Anelka has yet to make any difference at all, infact he’s hindered things by being played in so many different roles and positions. I’d say Griffthis has been our best signing so far, closely followed by Moises who after a shaky start has helped solidify Shenhua’s shaky back line.

B: Well, Guoan isn’t much better. I think fans would love having the Griff back over Reinaldo, our Asian signing. Manu has gotten the “shui huo” label attached squarely to his forehead, Francois forgot how to play defense over the winter, then went down for 6 months in the first game, and AK has yet to be heard from.
A lot of fans are placing their hopes on the summer transfer window, which opens on June 1, but I don’t think Guoan will be all that active, maybe just a defensive replacement. obviously there’s a lot of talk down in Shanghai about who might be joining.

S: Michael Owen’s name has been mentioned, but I’m not convinced that story has legs. It fits in that, he is going to leave Manchester United, he is 32 and his career seeming going nowhere, and he has a big name in China and even has a weibo. But I don’t think he would solve Shenhua’s problems.

B: I think teams need to be realistic this time of year, one player isn’t going to solve all the problems, and he could just as easily make things even worse.

S: We can say for sure there will be a change at Shenhua, Manset’s loan is up in June / July, and he’s surely not going to be asked to stay longer. I hope Shenhua use that slot to get a midfield enforcer. Bozic isn’t that player, and Yu Tao, whilst competent and aware, isn’t a strong enough tackler.

B: I think any GM with a brain would be looking at defensive players, that’s obviously the team’s biggest problem right now.

S: The irony is Shenhua’s defence has actually been playing really well. The issue seems to be in the midfield. Surely Anelka and Griffthis are good enough to score at this level if given proper service.

B: Well part of the problem has been Anelka’s roaming all over the place. I’ve seen the majority of Shenhua’s matches this season, and I think their best half was probably the second half against Jiangsu, and Anelka wasn’t on the pitch.

S: Yeah that is pretty mcuh the problem I said earlier in this chat.

B: Right, I’ve talked about it in previous pub talks, but I think he’s either too impatient, looking to do too much, or both. It’s hard to imagine, but I think if you have the Griff in the lineup and Anelka on the bench, it might actually help.

S: Maybe, but of course you can’t leave Anelka out if he is fit. I think the solution is simple, Shenhua need to play a settled line-up, Anelka playing in a deep forward role, Griffthis in front of him, just stick to this until it works.

B: I think that might be part of the issue, the team needs consistency and maybe it will eventually pay off.

S: So who have Beijing got this weekend? Thoughts?

B: It’s away at Henan, after last year, I won’t be making the trip this season, but am hoping for three points and the side’s first away win of the season.

S: Is your wife putting the kibosh on any plan to go down there, after the shenanigans last time?

B: She’s definitely not excited about the possibility of me making the trip again. I’ll be watching the match from the comfort of my own couch, probably not a bad choice.

S: I hope you’ll have a beer in one hand whilst you observe proceedings on the television.

B: That’s a must, would be nice to drink from now until then. Time to get out the pub and have a real one?

S: It is indeed. Until next time B.

B: Have a great weekend, cheers!

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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