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Pub Talk: Eternal rain

Big glamour friendlies are on the agenda in the pub this week, as your two regular drinkers ask if they are really that glamorous. China-based fans of big European clubs come in for a predictable tanking as Shanghai Ultra gets rowdy, as Bcheng dries out from the rain up north to lament the Bayern – Beijing game. Elsewhere, Drogba’s long-awaited debut is assessed, as is the Shandong derby. The big match is the battle of the big spenders, Guangzhou v Shenhua, but there’s also time to look at a fierce Beijing v Tianjin derby. Meanwhile, its time to start thinking about who will go down, as the pair unite to call on all who attend exhibition matches to give the CSL a try to. Spread the word, pub-goers!

Bcheng: We’re back in the pub and before we get talking about the league matches, should we first discuss the spectacle that took place this week in Beijing and Shanghai?

Shanghai Ultra: Do you mean the China Cup sponsored by Chevrolet and won by Manchester United last night against Shanghai Shenhua?

B: Wow, you’re very specific with all that. Yes, that farce and the one that took place in Beijing, the “Yingli Cup” between Beijing Guoan and Bayern Munich.

S: I think these games were absolutely splendid. It was a once in a lifetime chance for me to see Man U and I grasped it with both hands.

B: Sure, it must have been great seeing a United team you’ll never actually see again on the pitch.

S: A unique spectacle! The 42,000 crowd were treated to a pulsating end-to-end encounter by two teams determined to fight tooth-and-nail for the honour of lifting the prestigious and hallowed China Cup 2012.

B: Unlike the match in Beijing, which had almost no advertising, the game in Shanghai played up Shenhua’s Drogba and Anelka against United, did the fans feel ripped off that the duo wasn’t even on the team sheet?

S: No, I think most fans felt it was a bargain to watch stars of the future such as Qiu Shenjiong. When I’m old and decrepit, I’ll be able to tell my grandkids “I was there when Alex Ferguson praised Qiu Shenjiong for his second-half performance against Man U, back in his Shanghai Shenhua days. A bargain for most who paid around 180 – 400 rmb a ticket.

B: Good sir, what did you do with the Shanghai Ultra I know and loathe?

S: He’s returned after a period of self-retification. It’s true though – Alex Ferguson did praise Qiu Shenjiong. I think there is a very select band of foreigners who realise how downright hilarious that is.

B: Indeed! I find that hilarious.

S: Anyway, last night’s game was about as meaningless as it gets. Even Shenhua played
with a reserve side, quite rightly keeping their main force fit for the real business on Saturday night against Evergrande.

B: Okay, we’ve already spent enough time on those jokes….what say you about the previous weekend of CSL action?

S: It was a great round, better than expected, I’m still very surprised by Shandong’s collapse against Aerbin – 5-2.

B: That was certainly a surprise. What about Drogba finally making his debut?

S: Yeah, finally. I think Drogba’s debut., or rather the impact he made, was not a surprise at all. He lived up to the hype 100% and I’m very very excited about watching him play for Shenhua for now on in. Unfortunately its far too late this season for Shenhua, but Drogba will terrorize CSL defences. And frankly he did more in half a game for Shenhua than Anelka has done in half a season.

B: I would agree, he gave an excellent performance, regularly looking dangerous and setting up the goal.

S: It was a great pass for the goal and a great finish by Cao Yunding, although I think it will be the other way around more often than not from now on, Cao playing in Drogba. Incidentally, Cao is now Shenhua’s top scorer with 4 goals, all of which coming off the bench. Who would have thought that?

B: That is truly a surprise! I don’t think Guoan’s leading scorer has many more than that.

S: It’s all the more odd considering that last year, almost all of Shenhua’s goals came from Riascos and Salmeron up until the half way point.

B: Indeed, our clubs have that in common.

S: So it was a bit of a wash-out last weekend in Beijing – has everything dried out yet?

B: Things are back to normal up north. Last Saturday’s match was one of those that really shouldn’t have been played, I honestly have no clue what the CFA was thinking. All things considered, the pitch was in much better shape than we’ve seen before, especially in Guangzhou this year, but it was still unplayable in too many places.

S: Actually considering how much rain must have fallen, the pitch stood up as well as it could I think, from what I saw. Joking aside, that was an extremely serious rainstorm, many perished in the floods, I think it was simply wrong to play a match when its raining like that.

B: Yes, beyond the pitch conditions, there was no considerations for the fans who braved the storm and came out in large number.

S: Yeah, people in China are easily deterred from venturing outdoors even by drizzle, so I was impressed that 22,000 made it to Gongti in the midst of an absolute deluge from the heavens.

B: It’s awesome and in retrospect, it was incredibly dangerous that so many came out.

S: It was. It seems you have gotten all of the rain which hasn’t fallen on Shanghai this summer. But, for the match itself, it looked like Guoan were short on their luck again.

B: As I mentioned in the match report, Guoan have taken over 40 shots in two matches and given up something like 14, the problem is out of those 40 shots, the number that were on target can be counted on two hands and the number of goals that have come from them is one, off a penalty.

S: Kanoute looks to be the business though, surely he will rectify this state of affairs soon enough?

B: He should definitely make a difference, he just needs better service.

S: What else is happening around the CSL this week then?

B: This weekend the biggest match is down south, between the two big spenders.

S: Yep, Shenhua hog the limelight again. And I think we have never been more confident going into a match against Evergrande. However I’m not predicting a win, that would be foolhardy. Incidentally Sergio Batista was complaining about the distance Shenhua have travelled of late, going to the far north (Changchun) the deep south, Guangzhou, then back to Shanghai for the game against Man U, and back to Guangzhou again this weekend. It surely could have been planned better.

B: I don’t understand why he’d force the first team to fly north and not remain in Shanghai, training with an assistant, but that’s just me.

S: Yeah, I would have kept everyone in Guangzhou who wasn’t playing last night, which turns out to have been just about every first team player. It’s hardly worth flying back to Shanghai just to go and play Guangzhou again, and it’s not even a week between the matches against the two Guangzhou teams, its six days.

B: Exactly, I think in part that’s on Shenhua. Not all the focus will be in Guangzhou, there’s the Jing-Jin derby this weekend, though rain could be an issue. A major storm was supposed to hit Beijing, but it seems like Tianjin got the brunt of it, with equally shocking pictures that look a lot like Beijing did over the weekend.

S: Right, a lot of rain up there. Are you going to make the short trip to Tianjin?

B: No, once again away fans will not be allowed to make the trip, though there is hope that will be different next year. And “a lot of rain” is an understatement, much of Tianjin is literally under water today.

S: How about the game? Confident?

B: It’s not going to be easy, but Tianjin has struggled a lot this season and Guoan is the better side. It will depend how wet the pitch is, but I don’t think taking all three points is out of the question.

S: Tianjin are struggling a bit this year, they did nothing in the ACL champs league.

B: They sit on 20 points with Shenhua, hovering ever so close to the drop zone, but they should be higher in the table. They’ve been on a real skid as of late, without a win in five matches, but I’m sure they’ll be pumped up for this one. This derby is one where the bad blood isn’t just in the stands, these two teams really don’t like each other.

S: Yeah I find it exciting, this is a proper derby with proper history.

B: Unlike the Shandong derby, also taking place this weekend.

S: You don’t think the Shandong derby has much substance?

B: There isn’t anything to it. There is a history there, but I don’t think it means anything to the players, nor do the fans really treat it as an important derby.

S: Don’t the Qingdao fans need someone to hate?

B: Maybe they do look on Shandong as a rival, but I think Shandong takes the match versus Guoan (and Shenhua and Dalian, but namely Guoan because of the closeness between the two cities) far more seriously.

S: Right, Shandong look to Shanghai and Beijing for sure as rivals. But they seem to have slipped down a bit in the last couple of seasons.

B: Two years ago they were league champs. Last year they had some internal/coaching issues. They brought in a new manager who instituted a youth movement and basically ignored some of the team’s longterm veterans. They did make some good moves at the transfer window and they seem to have righted the ship.

S: Yeah then they got spanked last weekend.

B: That said, they’re part of that mass of teams sitting on 20 points, hovering just above the relegation zone, where Qingdao currently are on 17 points. So this derby will have major importance when looking at the points.

S: I think Qingdao are doomed, I can’t see anyone except them, and Henan or Shenxin going down. Everyone else at the bottom of the table has too much quality.

B: I would tend to agree, though (and perhaps this is just the Guoan fan in me), I could see Tianjin getting pulled into the fight. I think Shandong and Shenhua can weather the storm and I think if Keita can fit in at Aerbin, he’ll keep them up.

S: I think you hit it on the head, Tianjin could get pulled in, biased though I am, I don’t think anyone seriously believes Shenhua wont finish higher up the table than they are now, at the very least. Shandong, no way they will go down.

B: I honestly could have seen Shenhua getting caught up in the battle to stay up before Drogba’s arrival, but now for sure it isn’t going to happen.

S: Maybe if Drogba hadn’t came they might have struggled, but they still wouldn’t have gone down.

B: Anyways, moot point now.

S: It is. Any other interesting games on the radar this weekend?

B: I think we’ve covered all of them. There is a Liaoning derby between Whowin and Aerbin that will be interesting for points reasons, but not much more.

S: I want to revisit last night’s match to make a pertinent point if I may. The attendance for the game was 42k, twice the number who took in the China Derby two weeks ago. But the Shanghai – Beijing game was a superior occasion in all respects. I saw loads of people I knew milling around the stadium last night, many of whom football fans, but they never goto Hongkou. If they had gone to the China Derby, they for sure would have had a better time than they did last night. I got three SMS’s from friends after last night’s match saying “shit game.” They paid around 200-400 rmb on it, yet the Guoan Shenhua game would have been just 100 rmb or so. What is wrong with these people?

B: There is more to football than big names. People need to understand that. The local league, even if it wasn’t shown in the best light this week, is worth watching.

S: I can understand why people want to go and see Man United, even if it’s an under-strength side. But it doesn’t make sense to pay 2-3 times the price for a meaningless friendly when you could see a pulsating clash with an electric atmosphere at Hongkou for Shenhua v Beijing.
Another thing. Chinese Manchester United fans make me cringe. I can understand them following United. I can understand them buying the shirt and getting Rooney’s name,or whatever other over-paid star on the back. I can understand why they want to come to the stadium and see the team. But what I can’t understand are all these “Shanghai Reds” people, in an organized group, all singing Manchester United songs. What a bunch of saddos.

B: Just be thankful that Shenhua got paid $2.5 million to participate in the match, enough to pay Drogba for a week or two.

S: Right. Well can you imagine Man U accepting $2.5 million to play Shenhua in the middle of the Premiership season?

B: It’s an absolute joke, I think we both agree on that.

S: Yeah. Well I just hope that some of the 42K who turned up last night make their way to Hongkou for the derby against Hangzhou on August 4. Which I am also sure will be a much more exciting spectacle.

B: Let’s hope. I saw far more foreign faces than I’m used to at Worker’s Stadium Tuesday night, it sounds like the same thing in Shanghai. Come on you foreigners, come out for a league game, you’ll enjoy it.

S: Yeah. There are already a respectable number of foreign fans at Hongkou and I hope that number increases. I’d like to hear everyone else in the pub’s thoughts about this, so, leave your remarks and comments at the bottom of this post, please.

B: Cheers to that! Time to bring this pub session to a close?

S: It is. Gan Bei!

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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