This week Guangzhou is dominating the agenda in the pub, as the clubs foreign-player revolving door spins furiously on – who will leave who will stay? It’s too late for any changes until the end of the season, but that doesn’t stop your favourite pair of pub jokers from rambling on about it anyway, as Ultra makes unkind remarks about foreign player quotas. The CFA cup is given a once-over, and Jumping Jamie P is discussed as he holds onto his job for another week. The race to avoid relegation is focused upon again – who will slip through the trapdoor? Meanwhile, refereeing standards, international friendlies, and pointlessly long breaks are also some of the other topics your drinking pair mull over. Somethings however are not mulled over, such as Shenhua’s relegation prospects, and certain goings on at Tan Hotpot last Saturday evening involving a certain contributor and a bottle of ergutuo. That’s-hic-what’s in the pub-hic-this week-hic. Remember, we’re still looking for other drinkers, so get in touch, but if you just want to take a place up on the sofa and shout abuse, that’s cool also.
Bcheng: Over the last few months there have been a lot of expats who want to leave China, now there are a lot of footballers who seem to want out of Guangzhou. Lucas Barrios has only lasted less than two months before saying he’s gone at the end of the year, what say you?
Shanghai Ultra: I think Evergrande are reaping what they sowed. They lobbied to get a special rule change to allow them to have more foreign players in the squad than everyone else, they got it, but they can’t play them all on the pitch at the same time and some want to leave. So, tough shit.
B: Yeah, I’m not surprised by Barrios’ desire to leave, I think that Cleo wants out is slightly more shocking. He’s been unappreciated at the club for a while, but this year he seems to have gotten regular playing time.
S: Yeah it is a surprise. Not sure what the reasons are, or if its even official, but the rumours are all over the media.
B: In the Barrios case, it came straight from the player’s official site. I believe the Cleo story came from comments he made to the media. Do you think there’s something deeper in this? That these players, shall we say, got in over their heads or didn’t know what to expect when coming to China?
S: Yeah, I saw that on his own site. But unfortunately, my Spanish leaves something to be desired, to say the least. I think there could be something deeper in it. I think some of these guys probably came to China thinking it would be an easy buck. But they found out the CSL level has never been higher. Plus I think Lippi is probably whipping these guys’ arses more than they expected. I bet that is a factor.
B: I’m not sure how much Lippi is a factor. Barrios isn’t on his last legs, he didn’t come to retire and he should be used to playing under a top manager. I think part of it is that he’s tired after having just finished the European season (though going to Europe in January isn’t going to offer him much of a break). It’s also obvious that some guys just don’t adjust well to China, off-the-pitch cultural differences, the lower standard in travel, food, etc etc. Three of Guangzhou’s foreigners have come out and said they want to leave, but I think it’s for very different reasons.
S: Yeah I think your points are right. But there must be something untoward inside the club, that’s too many foreigners have said they want to leave in too short a space of time.
B: I think a lot of it is just temper tantrums. That’s what Conca’s was, after having been “suspended”, though I still think he’s probably gone at the end of the year. Barrios sat two games in a row and that’s going to always eat at a guy. There’s no other team in the CSL that Barrios or Conca would sit at. These guys have plenty of other suitors, they came thinking they’d be the center of attention and instead they’re relegated to the bench, that’s going to frustrate them. Especially a guy like Barrios, who doesn’t subscribe to the “Chinese style of play” and whose still in his prime. He’s wasting his footballing years sitting on the bench in China.
S: Yeah, well that situation is of Evergrande’s own making entirely. And Barrios must have known the risk.
B: He did get the start on Wednesday night in the CFA Cup, but only managed a half hour of play in a close victory for the southerners.
S: He was subbed?
B: Yeah, from some of the talk I’ve seen he may have been carrying an injury, he never really got involved in the match and right before being taken off seemed as if he strained something in his leg.
S: To be honest, I think Barrios is a class act, he should give the situation more time, he’s more than capable of banging in goals at this level, I think he should just be patient.
B: I’d tend to disagree. Managers and clubs tend to do this, stockpile players, its one thing if you’re sitting at Manchester United or Barcelona, it’s another thing entirely in the CSL. You don’t bring a guy over telling him he’ll play and then keep him on the bench.
S: but there is the foreign player quota here, you can’t ignore that.
B: True, but that shouldn’t keep him on the bench. Though Evergrande’s a deep team and they showed it last night, making eight changes to the starting XI and still managing a first leg victory.
S: Right. But I wonder how all this is going to affect their league challenge?
B: Argh, two segways, down the drain. Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to effect it very much, definitely not as much as them having to play on three fronts, plus half the team being called up to the national team.
S: That’s a good point. Sorry, Segways I missed, where were they?
B: The mention of Barrios in the CFA Cup last night and just now about the eight changes made to the side that played last night……….
S: Ah. Suggests Guangzhou were not taking the cup so seriously do you think?
B: Not really, I think it’s a sign to match your point. Lippi has so much talent and so many contests that he doesn’t really have a problem finding minutes for everybody. It wasn’t like last night’s side was overly watered down, though arguably somewhat more defensive minded than Evergrande usually plays.
S: Right right. And it’s a two-leg semi final right now isn’t it?
B: Yeah, with the next leg to be played in a month. Evergrande did what they needed to do, got a goal and the win at home, but most importantly kept Liaoning off the board.
S: I think there’s no need for home and away legs at this point. Surprised the CSL doesn’t make a special rule for teams still playing in the ACL. I can understand two legs for the final though.
B: See, I’m more used to the multileg semi and then a one-off final. If Evergrande make it into the final, it’s going to be a lot of football for them. I honestly can’t stand this double leg final they have this season.
S: If you are going to have a multi-leg round, the final is the only one which makes any sense, it gives both sets of fans the chance to see a final at their home ground. But I think the final should be a one-off affair at a neutral venue. The Bird’s Nest would have been a good choice I think.
B: I agree 100%. Put the final at the Bird’s Nest, make it a special day out. Unlike last year, you had a full years planning to work out ticket allotments and all that. It should have been done and I think those who wanted it at the Nest should have pushed a lot harder. If I were Toshiba, I’d make my sponsorship dependent on that.
S: Yeah, and at least it would mean the Bird’s Nest wouldn’t be quite so much as a white elephant as it is now. It’s a ground which is special to many Chinese people I think, I think some would go on the strength that it was at the Bird’s Nest alone, it would give the final a sense of prestige.
B: Exactly. There’s something special about going to the Bird’s Nest to attend something, just because it gets used so rarely. I understand giving both sets of fans the chance to see the final at their home venue, but it just seems like the decision was made to avoid the headaches of preparing a venue, ticketing, and stadium segregation. This way the CFA passes it off to the clubs.
S: Maybe it’s because it’s in Beijing, I don’t know. China doesn’t have a national football stadium like a lot of countries in Europe. We can only guess why there is resistance to the idea. Maybe they think not enough fans would travel if it was two southern teams.
B: Well, for the longest time the national stadium was Worker’s Stadium. In name, the Bird’s Nest is the National Stadium. I can understand China rotating things between a few different cities, it’s not like a European country that is small and where people can travel from all over to view the national team. The size of the country makes that impossible. But what the CFA’s decision came down to is simply cash. It’s expensive for them to rent the Bird’s Nest and risk it being half empty. Plus, the ticketing and segregation would be all on them.
S: Yeah we are on the same page with the Bird’s Nest. But hard to see why they are pricing themselves out of a small market. The stadium is not exactly buzzing with activity every weekend.
B: It’s stupidity. An effort to keep the “reputation” of the stadium in tact, but the reality is that it’s reputation has gone downhill as its fallen into disrepair. Sort of like the Henan defense, who gave up three to faltering Qingdao last weekend, pretty much assuring their demise.
S: Yeah they are looking doomed. Quite a turnaround, they were in the ACL either last year or the year before, can’t quite remember.
B: In 2010 I believe. Yeah, its a shock. I don’t have their roster to compare, but I can’t really think of any major players they lost, and they were even able to hold onto defender Zhao Peng and keeper Zeng Cheng, both members of the national team, at the start of this season.
S: I’m not totally up to speed on their roster, but I don’t think they were overly reliant on foreigners either.
B: They had the famed Polish black dude, Emmanual Elisebe or something like that, but yeah, it’s not like their foreigners were that much better than their current crop.
S: It’s still tight down there, time yet for them to mount a recovery.
B: Yes, at four points its tight, but everyone else is quickly moving up the table. I don’t think there’s much reason for hope in Zhengzhou these days.
S: Yeah, looking favourites at this point. Joining them will be?
B: Anyone’s guess.
S: Hahaha. Ok so what about last week. I saw parts of the Guoan game, looked like a fairly poor game from both teams.
B: Nice way of avoiding the “Shenhua relegation” conversation that got you hot under the collar last week. Guoan played alright, though many of the problems that have plagued them lately were still plaguing them. I think the referee’s decision on the goal they scored really hurt things. The team knew they were playing for their manager’s survival, they scored a quality goal just before the half only to have it denied by the referee. That had to sit heavy on their minds in the change room.
S: Ha ha you got me there. Yeah that was a very curious incident which happened in the game.
B: That’s going to happen, I don’t like bitching about referees too much. Liaoning had a goal denied them that probably shouldn’t have been, but it was a real close call requiring slo-mo to really determine clearly. The Guoan goal was a situation where he was on the right side of not one but two Liaoning defenders, it was inexcusably bad.
S: Yeah seems officiating is becoming something of a regular focus this season. Is this justified?
B: I think the level of refereeing here isn’t that high, you’re always going to get plenty of mistakes.
S: Just seems to be more of late, perhaps its just my imagination.
B: So Shenhua only managed a win at home to Shide, the manager seemed very angry about the opponent’s tactics, how bad was it? Worse than Qingdao or was it overstated?
S: It wasn’t that bad. Shenhua did have some chances and should have scored. But I think there’s unhappiness that Shenhua have failed to score for two games in a row against fairly average CSL sides, despite having the most expensively assembled strike force. Unhappiness which is pretty well justified really.
B: And now they’ll have a hell of a challenge going on the road to Jinan, not an easy place to play.
S: Not easy at all. Wouldn’t be surprised if Shenhua fail to score again, such is their ineptitude.
B: You all should fare better than Guoan did a few weeks back, at least one would hope. If not, that relegation zone is creeping up….
S: Right, can’t argue with that this time. But then again, if Shenhua had scored one goal in each of their last two games, they’d be a mere 4 points off of 3rd and ACL qualification. Ah, the excitement of it all!
B: True, that’s just how football is. You making the trip?
S: Considering it. Not sure who else from the Blue Devils are going, there is no official trip. I’d be going on the Gaotie if I do go up.
B: So far this year, the boys haven’t enjoyed trips to Jinan, hope things are slightly better for you. Guoan’s actually headed down to Shanghai this weekend, to take on a fighting Shenxin side. Pacheco was probably saved by the horrible refereeing decision last weekend, but this weekend, anything short of victory probably means he gets axed.
S: Sadly for Jumpin’ J it seems that way. And Shanghai isn’t a happy hunting ground for Guoan as you are well aware.
B: Well, the club’s never lost to Shenxin, and I believe we’ve won most of our matches in the Whore of the East that weren’t played at Hongkou.
S: Haha yeah, all one of them :-p
B: Well, there were also a couple matches with Inter Shanghai.
S: Ah right, fair enough. So what else is on the CSL agenda this week?
B: Evergrande hosting Tianjin should be an interesting one. I would expect Guangzhou will find a way to win, but Tianjin may make it hard on them and they are a side trying to climb up the table.
S: Dalian Shide v Hangzhou attracts my attention, that’s a must-win for Greentown, they are getting a bit close to the drop zone.
B: Yeah, I was thinking about mentioning that one, it should be a winnable one for Okada’s troops, but honestly I just can’t see them winning it in Jinzhou. I think losing Du Wei has killed that side and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if they go down right now.
S: Yeah Du Wei is a solid defender who delivers consistently at CSL level, it’s taken Shenhua about 3 years to plug the gap he left, Hangzhou should have learned from the team they bought him from.
B: Let’s hope for some exciting football as we have almost three weeks until the next match. Unfortunately all but one of the matches are Saturday night starts.
S: Yeah what is up with this break? More international games?
B: Yeah, it’s even worse in Europe where the season’s only a week old. China will be taking on Switzerland and Brazil, both good tests. Wang Dalei get a very deserved call up into the squad.
S: Yeah I noticed that. He certainly is there on merit, although I was looking at the squad, in recent years it seems like they have been giving out caps like business cards.
B: True, but I think that’s perfectly understandable when you have a lot of players who are really all on the same level and no important matches to play. Gao Hongbo especially was willing to give almost any youngster a try for a match or two and it worked.
S: Yeah, good point, I think it’s a sensible policy. But I’m wondering why is it necessary to have a three-week break for only two games, which I presume will take place within 4 days or so?
B: Such is the logic of the CFA.
S: I suppose they have the luxury of some gaps since the CSL is only 30 games at present, but in future years, if they go ahead with plans to expand the CSL to 18 or 20 teams, they aren’t going to be able to do this unless they want to overload on midweek fixtures, and I don’t think that would be good.
B: Yeah, I think if that ever happens, they’d cut down the season, but who knows. They first have to worry about teams contracting.
S: Right, any substance to this Dalian merger rumour?
B: Who knows the truth about what’s going on in Dalian. Major news sources picked it up, so there must be some legitimacy to it, but I can’t see it happening. However, I also don’t think they’ll be two teams in Dalian when next season begins.
S: Hmm. Only next season will tell.
B: Alright, I think its time to call it a day.
S: It is. Cheers mate.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015