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Pub Talk: Rank Rotten

This week in the pub Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra talk semantics and relegation as some big wagers are thrown about. Attention is focused more and more on not only the bottom but also the top as Guangzhou Evergrande and Jiangsu Sainty close in, but who is going down? There’s some humour at the expense of Evergrande and the band of drunken hecklers at the back of the house, as Ultra turns Cantonese and starts salivating over unusual foodstuffs. Simultaneously Dario Conca tries his best not to look like a small, exotic Guangzhou forest animal. Meanwhile, on a side tangent, the FIFA rankings are a subject of amusement, as China’s friendly match involves those. And for everyone’s merriment, except Bcheng’s, Guoan’s latest predicament is scrutinized – will jumping jack Jamie P stay or go? No unusual weather conditions in the pub this week, but there is a Gongti turtle drinking beer and some other bizarre blue creature speaking in an unknown dialect. After investigation, that is this weeks filing – this product may contain irony.

Bcheng: Things are starting to heat up, eh?

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah it was another interesting weekend in the CSL, things are happening at the top and bottom.

B: Most definitely, Evergrande managed to get past Hangzhou, the only side at the top to win, while Shenxin took down Qingdao to push themselves out of a relegation position for the time being.

S: I was disappointed to see Sainty didn’t manage to grab 3 points.

B: Shenyang’s never an easy place to travel to and at this point in the season, everyone’s in need of points. I expect we’ll see more than a few top teams losing on the road, though Evergrande bucked that trend as Hangzhou ran out of time.

S: Yeah, Electrifying Evergrande light up the north-east!

B: Erm?

S: Sorry, I got mixed up, I thought Evergrande had played Shenyang. But the truth is that Evergrande are shining brightly enough to illuminate not only the north-east of China, but all of Asia itself, don’t you agree?

B: Umm….

S: Ok, I had a few shots of that Baijiu which has a picked snake in it.

B: Two wins in their last six isn’t Guoan bad, but it’s nothing to write home about. I also think the biggest story of that Greentown-Evergrande match was Chen Zhongliu, the kid had a part in both of Greentown’s goals. I can only imagine things might have been different if he was given a little more time. For a 19 year old, he’s looking like a major talent.

S: Cough, I think I swallowed snake bladder. Yeah, that name is new to me, but hopefully we will be hearing it with greater and greater frequency from now on.

B: He scored a scorcher in their come back win over Chengdu in the CFA Cup and is a youngster worth watching.

S: Right on. Are there any scouts in the pub? You can thank us by picking up the tab. Speaking of Chinese talents, how about the midweek 1-1 draw for the national team? That lovely young man Gao Lin grabbed a splendid goal, didn’t he?

B: Not so sure about that penalty, or one or two of those offside calls against Ghana. I’m not an expert on Ghana, but it didn’t seem to be anything near their strongest lineup, and it was a bit of a surprise they made Gyan travel only to sit on the bench for 90 minutes.

S: That is a bit odd. But I suppose its good for the Chinese national team to get a run-out. Since they won’t be playing any competitive games anytime soon.

B: Yeah, it was a decent result against a team that people have heard of, will help their FIFA ranking, that’s about it.

S: FIFA ranking, what a load of bollocks that is.

B: As much as it is, there are a lot of things that rely on it (positions in Asia, transfers to the EPL), so it matters.

S: FIFA may as well pull the team names out of their arses, the latest ranking has England third! I find that extremely amusing.

B: Again, the rankings may be bullshit, everyone knows their bullshit, but a number of very important things are based on it, so they aren’t all that bullshit.

S: It’s good comedy value. The weakest England team in years, ranked above Italy, who gave them a solid beating just the other month in the Euro. The rankings look a bit more sensible in Asia, Japan are ranked top, followed by Australia and Korea. China are ranked 6th in Asia behind Iran and Uzbekistan.

B: So, after laughing at Shenhua’s struggles a lot this season, Guoan’s in the midst of their own nightmare, seven losses in 10 matches, including giving up four this past weekend. And now the manager may or may not be going. You enjoying my pain?

S: Funny you should mention it, I was just about to bring this topic up. Pacheco out?

B: It seems the club is trying to force him out. It’s odd when in the span of only a few days, the media is suddenly full of articles attacking Pacheco.

S: That is strange. Tell us more.

B: Well, it’s quite obvious these writers are doing so at the behest of club management. As I said, things have really gone bad lately, on the back of the results there’s a decent reason to fire him. I’m not one to make rash decisions, I think keeping him around is the right move, look at how Shandong have turned things around, keeping ten Cate around. The issue is that there are stories out there that he’s lost the locker room, in which case there isn’t really much choice to be made.

S: Yeah I have seen an awful lot of positive news stories about Zhu Jun in the Shanghai media. Seems buying positive coverage is something which happens often around here. BUt what do you think should be done about the Guoan situation?

B: Based on what I know as a fan, I think he should be kept around, firing him at this point seems overly harsh, though the reasons are growing quickly. But that’s as a fan, I don’t know if the rumors about him having lost the locker room are true or not. Shanghai newspapers are even getting in on the show, with a story saying Kanoute was quoted as saying “what a crazy!” about Pacheco after a video room incident.

S: He was Beijing’s hero last year. I don’t think he has become a bad manager since then.

B: He’s grasping at straws recently, juggling the lineup, making even more desperate changes. He’s a good manager, but for a while there’s been some talk about him publicly taking the blame, while laying into the player’s in private. To me, that’s the sign of a good manager, but others feel differently. It just depends if he has the players’ trust. Supposedly he’s in charge of the decisions over foreigners and so far, he hasn’t brought in a single one whose worked out.

S: That was what I was going to say. I’m disappointed to see that a foreign boss given transfer policy control hasn’t made the best of that opportunity.

B: What scares me is that, that’s bound to happen, it’s not easy to find the right guys. What scares me is that the talk around town is that they are looking for a young Beijinger to replace him. This isn’t the first time Guoan has insisted the manager come from Beijing.

S: I have the feeling that there are not a lot of such candidates.

B: Nope, and the names being tossed around like Xie Feng or Tao Wei are really lacking in experience. If one of them get put in charge, I think you have to look squarely at some of the veterans on the team as orchestrating this locker room revolt.

S: Power games as always. I think its good to have the desire to hire local players and staff, but it doesn’t work to limit it totally to that.

B: The two guys I named played alongside of some of these Guoan players, its hard to see them as being able to create a strong locker room presence. I’m all for more Chinese managers, especially opportunities for young managers, but it seems way too premature for both of those guys. That’s my biggest concern, I can see why he should be fired, but I don’t really trust the club to bring in someone better.

S: I think this is bad for the Chinese league. There needs to be more stability and continuity in football in general. This trend of firing managers at the first sign of trouble doesn’t help anyone.

B: I don’t disagree, but there’s a difference between a manager who things just aren’t clicking for and a manager who has become absolutely desperate.

S: But I suggest Pacheco’s actions are a result of pressure, if the club had more confidence in him, and wasn’t orchestrating moves behind his back, it would be better for all concerned. Chinese football needs more long-term thinking, short-termism, like hiring and firing managers every season or even more often than that, creates a climate of fear, that is a bad thing to have anywhere, especially in the dug out.

B: I agree, but I don’t see it as pressure, the pressure really only started after the 0-4 loss last weekend. Managers go through bad spells and clubs should stick with them through it, but when a manager is getting desperate, there’s not much you can do.

S: Well, I hope he’s given more time. I think its in the interests of the CSL as a whole that managerial terms become longer, and that they are vested with more power over team affairs instead of silly-billy chairmen.

B: I don’t know what club allows their chairman much power over team affairs outside of a certain blue side in Shanghai.
But yes, overall I agree, he should at least be allowed to finish the season.

S: I think its clear club chairmen in China do more than their fair share of meddling

B: It varies heavily by team. I think for the most part, the chairmen don’t do much meddling.

S: Well, you just said your team is manipulating the media against Pacheco.

B: I think that’s different from meddling. It’s obvious that those in charge want to fire him, they’re doing it in a way that allow them to pull at least some of the fans to their side.

S: My point is that chairmen / boards should leave managers to get on with their jobs.

B: That is, when they are doing their job well. For the most part, the chairmen rarely are involved, if you asked most Guoan fans, they probably couldn’t even tell you who the chairman of the club was. Most chairmen aren’t like Zhu Jun or Xu Jiayin, I think what you’re talking about is more the general managers and player personnel managers at clubs, especially the latter, that have way too much power. But at the same time, when you have a guy like Okada in Hangzhou whose only on a year contract, it does make sense why you wouldn’t cede total control to him.

S: Yeah I am making a general comment. What I think we can agree on is there could be more respect for the manager at CSL clubs.

B: I think that’s true. I do think managers should have greater control over who comes and goes, especially a foreign manager choosing the foreigners. I think we saw how things go with the case of Tianjin this year.

S: Yeah. I suspect people within the clubs use the tired old “but China is different” argument, which, whilst that is true to some extent, football is football.

B: Football is football and the CSL scouting network is non-existent, they rely on the word of agents and videos. But videos are obviously only going to show the player at his best, it’s not something that can be relied on.

S: Yeah. So, moving on, what’s exciting you about this weekend’s round of fixtures?

B: I think the big match is Evergrande at Changchun. Changchun handed them their first defeat last year, will they be able to beat Guangzhou again this year.

S: Now that is a very tricky away fixture and Changchun have been moving steadily up the table in recent weeks.

B: Well, I thought the match between these two sides at Tianhe would be interesting, yet Evergrande won easily, 4-0. Changchun hasn’t really moved at all this year, they’ve pretty much sat in fifth or sixth this entire season. Always looking like they’d threaten to move up the table, but failing to do so.

S: Right, they are steadily in there though, there’s been a lot of movement around them. Guangzhou will be hoping to get a decent referee this time to guard against all the dodgy descisions that have so unfairly went against them of late.

B: Yes, yes! The referees are completely out to get them, hate the leaders and all that, I think they’re just jealous of how handsome Gao Lin is, it’s so unfair!

S: B, does that bar stool you’re sitting on have four legs? I’m battling an odd compulsion to sink my teeth into it.

B: Seriously, it seems like every call is always going against Evergrande. I’m confident they’ll be able to handle Changchun, but when you add in the ref, you never know.

S: Yeah Evergrande should just eat all those yellow cards man.

B: Anyways, I don’t think there’s a bad match in the bunch, a lot of teams that are very close in the table going up against each other, including you lot taking on Shide.

S: Yeah a lot of interest in the game this weekend, all 80 rmb tickets are sold out apparently, according to online ticket buying sources. But I think it’s going to be interesting seeing what Shenhua can do after struggling a bit against Tianjin.

B: Shide is a very beatable team, though they spanked R&F last weekend. And I guess the “beatable” part is equally valid for Shenhua.
I think more so than other leagues, home field advantage seems to be a real difference maker in the CSL.

S: It certainly is for Shenhua. We’ve spoken before about Fortress Hongkou’s special powers. But I’d be willing to bet that if I could be arsed looking at the stats, Shenhua’s home v away record disparity would be one of the biggest in the CSL.

B: Actually not, the stats are pretty much the same across the board, though Guoan’s is one of the most shocking, 8-1-2 at home vs 1-3-6 on the road. Shenhua’s 4-4-2 at home and 1-6-4 on the road.

S: Ah, good old B, you went and did a quick examination of the stats. Fly guy. I was meaning it from a historical perspective more than anything, but yeah, good to see how it is this season.

B: Really, the most shocking home and away is Guoan or Liaoning (5-5-1 at home vs. 0-5-5 on the road). And guess who Guoan is welcoming to Worker’s Stadium tonight?

S: Hah ha! boom-tsss!

B: For a manager whose job is in trouble, going up against a team that has yet to win on the road should be a confidence boost.

S: And are you confident?

B: Guoan’s a different team at home and Liaoning’s a side that’s all over the place, I think it’s a winnable match.

S: How’s Freddie getting on so far?

B: A very frustrated player who wishes he wasn’t in Beijing. It’s not his fault, I just think the style of play changed too much.

S: Quite surprised by that verdict, you think he already regrets joining?

B: He’s become almost too important to the attack, the concerns that you had with Drogba is exactly what happened with Kanoute. The midfield is young, Piao Cheng’s 22, Zhang Xizhe is 21, these guys just keep feeding the ball to Kanoute, but he’s getting it with his back to the goal, he doesn’t seem to have any move, or when he does, he’s double teamed. When he doesn’t have the ball with his back to the net, they send in balls for him to use his height, but when he’s the only Guoan player in the box fighting off three defenders, the odds are more than slightly against him.

S: Yeah I can see how that could happen, at least Shenhua have Anelka in there, even if he wasn’t setting Hongkou on fire much until Drogba appeared.

B: Right, they’re used to playing with someone on that level. Kanoute’s shown some moments of brilliance, but they’ve been rare and it’s been a lot more bad turnovers and stupid diving.

S: It’s still early for him, I think there’s still time for him to adjust his game.

B: I hope so, it’s been hard to watch.

S: Yeah. Elsewhere, there’s another match on the agenda which I think deserves mention – relegation six-pointer between Henan and Qingdao.

B: It’s a big one. We’ve said for a while that we believe Henan is going down, if they can win this one, though, things are going to get very, very tight.

S: They are. I think it could end up being a draw and keeping it tight.

B: Let’s hope the excitement continues. There were a ton of draws last weekend, things are getting very tight.

S: Yeah. Well Shandong look to be pulling away as expected, Shanghai Shenxin are in the shit though.

B: We’re in agreeance that Shenhua and Luneng are probably safe, but if I were starting my relegation watch, they’re still most definitely in the picture.

S: There’s no “probably” about it, neither Shenhua nor Shandong are going down. Do you honestly think Shenhua still might get relegated?

B: I don’t think there’s much chance of it, but they’re only four points out of a relegation spot. You can’t deny they’re in the picture.

S: I don’t think there are many people out there except those in turtle shells still discussing weather Shenhua might get relegated.

B: Come off it, man. They’re four points from 15th place. If I were making odds, I’d put them at 10% or so, but as of right now, Shenhua is still most definitely in the relegation picture. And if, IF, for instance, Henan beats Qingdao and Shanghai loses over the weekend, that feeling of safety has to lessen a bit.

S: Ok, have it your way, I bet you 5,000 rmb Shenhua are not relegated.

B: I NEVER said they were going down. All I’m saying is that for the time being, they are in the relegation picture.

S: Hahah. Chicken shit!

B: Screw you! For the past two weeks and even today I said I don’t think Shenhua are going down, but four points isn’t that big a gap, plus there’s still a Shanghai derby to play. Shenhua looked great against Hangzhou, but they came back down to earth against Tianjin. We’ll see how they do this weekend…

S: Hahahahahah. Can I remind you Shenhua are unbeaten in six games now?

B: Say Drogba goes down with an injury (entirely possible considering how much he’s played) Griffiths is hurt again (entirely possible considering how fragile he is), and Anelka goes back to playing like pre-Drog Anelka. The one thing that Shenhua really has in their favor is that other than Guizhou and Changchun, the rest of their schedule is against the bottom half of the table.

S: You beat me to it. Even if Shenhua have some bad injury problems, their run in is as easy as it could realistically be. So I just can’t see relegation happening, at all.

B: Let’s see how things look in a month.

S: Yep, looking forward to that very much.

B: Cheers to that.

S: Cheers indeed!

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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