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Pub Talk: That Ivory Coast Fella…

This week’s pub talk sees the dynamic duo of Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra tacking the pressing issues of the day – Guangzhou Evergrande are in their sights again, with their selfish move to increase foreign player slots. Action in the last round is reviewed, and with their of the pair’s favoured teams having good results, there’s not much said. The big games this coming weekend are reviewed, Gongti is the place to be it seems, whilst the question of future trends in Chinese Super League foreign coaches comes up. That’s about it this week, except also we mention Didier Drogba.

Bcheng: We’re back in the pub, I don’t know, there’s kinda a big story coming out of Shanghai these days, is there not?

Shanghai Ultra: Haven’t heard a whisper around here mate.

B: I think its about some guy named Moreno?

S: Never ‘eard of him.

B: I guess he’s a Columbian who is joining Shenhua. Also, there’s this other guy, from Africa but I think he’s been playing in Europe.

S: Why, that must be Shandong Luneng’s new Mozambique signing from Panathiniakos!

B: I think they’re signing an Ivorian instead. Didier something…

S: Who dat?

B: Haha, okay, I think it’s time for us to be serious, so Drogba’s coming, it’s official. And we told everyone it was going to happen a month ago.

S: Yes. From the Pub came great wisdom. In Didier and beer we trust!

B: I’m actually excited about this one, it’s not like Nicolas Anelka, this is going to be massive.

S: Yeah Anelka was a massive signing, but Drogba is a higher level. I think, at least I hope, that the things I predicted about Anelka coming, but which didn’t turn out, turn out for Drogba, namely bigger crowds in any ground Shenhua play in.

B: I think they will. Anelka’s a phenomenal player, but Drogba’s an international megastar. He had a tough year of it, but he showed his quality late in the season during the Fa Cup and Champions League.

S: Yeah there is no doubt. I mean… this is just absolutely massive. Huge. It was rumoured for so long, now it’s finally happened, as a Shenhua fan, I’m almost overwhelmed.

B: Right. It’s going to make playing Shenhua much harder, but Guoan have never won at Hongkou so, oh well. I am hoping his first match is against Guoan. Guoan was the first team to face Anelka, they may be the first team to face Barrios and Drogba as well. The joke going around weibo is that they should wear “Why Always Me?” t-shirts.

S: Haha that is funny. Well for the first time this season, I can confidently predict that Shenhua will avoid defeat when your lot come down.

B: You never know with the CSL. Getting back to the topic, I think Drogba’s arrival has more implications for Chinese soccer than Anelka does, not only because he’s on another level when it comes to stardom.

S: Yeah. Already we can see the impact is bigger than with Anelka. But…. the sad fact is that it’s too late for Shenhua to make any serious attempt at the title, you wonder how things would have been had he signed at the start of the year.

B: Well, that would have crushed Chelsea fans who’d be without two trophies right now. Speaking of which, I think that’s where your hopes lie, with Drogba leading a cup run.
That said, Drogba’s huge but he doesn’t solve the gaping problems in the defense and midfield.

S: The strange thing is the problems in defence seem to have disappeared. Wang Dalei is finally showing why he once had a trial with Inter Milan, and Dai Lin is playing with confidence and could turn into one of China’s top defenders if he keeps on going. The problem is in midfield, specifically, someone who can win the ball and control the centre of the pitch. Whether the new Columbian international is the right man for that I’m not sure, he looks to be an attacking creative player. We already have Cao Yunding.

B: Will Hongkou sell out for Drogba’s debut? And do you expect ticket prices to be raised?

S: Well I had not so much egg on my face but a whole omelette last night round when I said Anelka would pack it out. He’s put maybe 5,000 on the gate. At the risk of losing my reputation as one of ‘s more objective contributors, I predict the Guoan match will be sold out, and the game on Sunday night against Aerbin will see a big boost on the gate due to the feel-good factor, even although the Drog won’t be playing just yet.

B: And there seems to be a real feel good factor and a sudden discovery that Zhu Jun may not be the devil incarnate.

S: Yes. It’s all quite amazing, I have seen some hard-core Zhu Jun haters praising him to the skies on Weibo in the last day or so. But it’s just increasing the pressure, Shenhua at least will need to make a very good run in the CFA cup. It’s not to late to qualify for the ACL in third, but that’s an outside shot and the cup is a far more realistic route.

B: Right, your hopes are in the cup at this point. So moving on…

S: Yeah. Lets move on.

B: Another highly praised club leader finds himself in a rough spot today.

“It is a tale of a company who has abused the capital markets as well as the generous lending of the Chinese Government in order to enrich one man, aggrandize his personal ego and support his pet projects.”

“Bribery, excessive spending, and off-balance sheet transactions are the foundation of X’s financials.”

Does that sound like anyone (or any club) you know?

S: It sounds like G******** E********. What’s going on down there now?

B: Citron Research issued an analysis of Evergrande Real Estate Group that was released today, the above quotes were taken directly from that report (which is subtitled “Deception on a Grand Scale”) and has seen Evergrande’s stock nose dive on the HK exchange.

S: I can’t say I’m surprised. Mega-rich people from newly capitalist countries just fill me with endless suspicion. The Chinese Abramovich?

B: As I’ve been saying for a while, Xu Jiayin’s going to end up bored with football, in jail because his patron’s not in power anymore, or abroad.
We’ll see if Evergrande have the money to make another big signing before the window is up, they no longer have to worry about getting rid of a foreign player.

S: I’m onboard with you completely on Evergrande. These obscenely rich types usually get involved with football for the wrong reasons. Evergrande is turning into a very destructive force for Chinese football in a lot of ways, and this report into their financials is more evidence that Evergrande’s investment in Chinese football is unsustainable.

B: One of the most destructive ways is with this most recent CSL rule change.

S: Yes. We don’t like to resort to foul and abusive language in the pub, but I can’t think of any other way to describe this change other than fucking ridiculous.

B: A mid-season change that only benefits one team, the club currently sitting in first place, it is a bit insane.

S: It makes a total mockery of the corruption trials, trying to stamp out match-fixing and bribery on one hard to restore the integrity of the league, then handing one team which just happens to have oodles of cash an advantage over all other clubs, just because they are in the ACL.

B: If I was not the insane supporter that I am and instead just a casual fan, I think this would put me off of Chinese football for good.

S: I feel the same way. Although I’m guessing a lot of fans will accept it if it helps to “bring China honour” by having Guangzhou win the ACL. Of course, no-one sees the irony of it – the new rules which allow Guangzhou to have a bigger pool of FOREIGN players to pick from.

B: Right, in all honesty, I can kinda see the devil’s advocate argument if you keep limiting the number to five in the matchday roster. But that’s only okay if every team is afforded the choice to have seven foreigners.

S: Can you help us out by explaining what the rule actually is exactly?

B: Currently a club is only allowed 5 foreigners, and only 4 in the starting XI (3 from anywhere, 1 from an Asian country). This rule won’t change the number in the starting lineup or in the matchday roster, however it will allow a team to have 2 additional foreign players on the roster. Although only Evergrande will be allowed the two extra foreigners.

S: And the advantage of that is?

B: The advantage of that is they can rest a foreign player and not worry that they’ll be missing one from the roster. Or if one gets a red card, while other teams would only have four foreigners available, they’ll still have five.

S: How absurd!

B: Exactly, but it’s going to work for them. Not that they need another foreigner, look how they dismantled Jiangsu last weekend.

S: It’s a grossly unfair ruling which flies in the face of sporting integrity.

B: So last weekend?

S: Hmm. Well not much to shout about for Shenhua, by all account a dull and damp game, Anelka and Griff were out again. I think everyone is hoping these dreary away defeats become much rare from July onwards.

B: Haha, or so you hope.

S: There is a nagging voice in the back of my head because its Shenhua. But surely Anelka, Drogba and the new midfielder should be good enough to beat most teams.

B: It should bring about an improvement on three wins in 13 matches.

S: Of that surely there’s no doubt. So what’s happening with Beijing of late? Your faces must be the same colour of your shirts watching Drog sign for Shanghai.

B: There was a bit of a slip-up against Qingdao, but they can be a tough team, at least Guoan walked away with a point, but there can’t be many more of these slip-ups.

S: Qingdao did alright last year, although 0-0 at home is a disappointment for you. And the rest of the league, who surely are all hoping Evergrande slip up each time.

B: Definitely, R&F slipped up even more, losing to Aerbin on the road. And Jiangsu seemed to just lay down and die, getting crushed by Evergrande.

S: Now that was a shocking result, wasn’t it?

B: Definitely, I was expecting much more out of Jiangsu. I don’t know if Evergrande are just that tough or if it was an off night for the visitors or a little of both. Anyways, I’ll see for myself, this week it’s Jiangsu coming to Worker’s Stadium.

S: Smoooooootttthhhhh segue there B.

B: Thanks for that. Jiangsu’s going to be a tough team to face, especially coming off of a loss, their foreign strikers are going to be a challenge for our defenders. Liu Jianye’s out of the lineup, so that is helpful, but I’m not so confident we’ll walk away with all three points.

S: If you win, the CSL is at risk of turning into a two-horse race, with one horse looking a bit knackered.

B: If Guoan loses, then it’s going to look even worse.

S: Unfortunately so. Unless Evergrande slip up against away to Liaoning. Your views on that fixture?

B: A week ago, I would say Liaoning had a good chance of holding Evergrande to a single point, but after they went off against Jiangsu, I don’t know, it’s going to be hard. It will depend on if Zhao Junzhe is still in Muriqui’s head after last year’s incident (that almost saw Muriqui quit the CSL), how the weather is in Shenyang, and if Li Tie decides to serve as a spy for Liaoning, hehe.

S: Haha. Come on Lie Tie. Well, looking around elsewhere, Drogba’s arrival has brought the predictable slew of articles from the international media. Many of which rather lacking in understanding of the landscape here. For example.

B: It’s not that I didn’t see the Drogba article, it’s that I can’t be arsed to talk about it. There are two teams that are spending insane amounts of money, while everyone else builds logically.

S: Yeah we have covered all that crap from the foreign media before.

B: So who does Shenhua have this weekend?

S: Almost forgot about our upcoming match amidst all the excitement. We have Dalian Aerbin at home on Sunday night. Sure to be a bigger crowd than normal. On the field, I’m hoping the feel good factor rubs off onto the players before Drogba arrives. Aerbin haven’t set the CSL alight, I think they are fair game if Shenhua can get Anelka or Griff up front.

B: Even without those guys, I can’t see you lot losing to Aerbin at home. It would be good to get things turned around and have things going the right way when Drogba comes to town.

S: I’m predicting a victory against Aerbin.

B: I think you’ll be right. So any other matches you looking to?

S: Not really, I think the match of the round has to be at Gongti. Hangzhou v Yatai is kinda interesting, Greentown are on form and Yatai are doing well. There’s a basement battle as well which catches my eye, Shandong (shockingly in the basement) and Shanzhai Shenxin.

B: I think you’re right, other than the matches at Gongti and in Shenyang, I find the Hangzhou-Changchun match highly interesting, both of these clubs are potentially fighting for that third ACL spot.

S: Hangzhou have turned it around for sure. They looked pretty bad when we played them back at the start of the season.

B: Yeah, things are going a lot better by the lake. Okada has things headed in the right direction.

S: Do you think we could see more Japanese coaches in the CSL if he gets some proper success with Hangzhou?

B: I doubt it, I’m not sure about what the situation is in the J-League, but there’s only been two Japanese coaches of the national team in the past 20 years (and one of them is Okada).

S: That’s not a good trend really is it. Not for Asian football.

B: It’s not really all that surprising. I’m not sure what it’s like across the board in the J-League, but I know the majority of Japan’s ACL teams were coached by foreign managers.

S: I believe you are right about that.

B: With that being the case, I can understand why Hangzhou was attracted to Okada, but I don’t see many more Japanese coming over.

S: Not when the likes of Lippi are coming now. Even if not all clubs are going to be able to afford that calibre of coach, it does show a trend I think for bigger names.

B: I think most clubs will continue spending within their means. Though those means are growing slowly. Does this bring another pub talk to a close?

S: I think it does. We have covered a wide range of material. I’m surprised we are still sober.

B: Cheers, mate! Have a great Dragon Boat holiday!

S: Cheers, enjoy the extended weekend, one and all.

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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