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Pub Talk: Breaking the break

switches back to conventional mode after managing to escape to a real pub last week. This week, the relegation battle heats up what with the “make up” games getting played since our last pub visit, it’s just too tight to predict. Politics makes an appearance – can the man tipped to take over China put his football enthusiasm to good use? Your drinking pair are worried. With no CSL games this weekend, grassroots come into focus, as does a proposed new team in Beijing. Meanwhile, a mini silly season breaks out as Ronaldo is linked with the CSL – he’s roundly shouted down, as is Zhu Jun who seems to think he may be able to attract the diving one – your intrepid CSL observers pass comment. Finally, something of a different nature is being passed, notably by Bcheng, who emits a loud and strange brain fart on Asian League qualification before stumbling out of the door. That’s what’s in the pub this week, enter if you dare…

S: Back in the Pub, of sorts, after our impromptu podcast last week. How do you think it sounded?

B: It was good, I think we should consider doing it again. I’d be interested in knowing if our readers prefer it as a podcast.

S: I think it sounded not bad for a first effort. The background noise I think was a bit distracting. I’m sure we will get the chance to do it again sometime.

B: So before we get onto the CSL stories, Chinese football, of sorts, has made its way into international politics. Xi Jinping, the expected next head of China’s government, has cancelled an important meeting with Hillary Clinton, rumor is that the reason is partly due to his injuring his back in a Zhongnanhai football match.

S: Really, I know nothing of this. What’s the story?

B: That’s pretty much the extent of it, he suffered an injury playing against staff. Yet another sign that Xi’s really passionate about the game.

S: Yeah we have heard a lot about his supposed love for the game. Deng Xiaoping was a big football fan as well, but that was before pro football of course. It will certainly be interesting to see what impact Xi could make if he gets vot, er, I mean gets into power.

B: My biggest concern is that Xi will, directly or indirectly, put too much pressure on the CFA and it will lead to even more problems.

S: Yes, indeed. Some argue the Chinese government has too much power over the CFA as it is. Xi may also even force through old-school ideas like suspending the CSL season so the national team and spend months training together, as has been tried before.

B: I can’t imagine that being the case. I don’t think he’s going to get that hands on. My worry is that he will be keeping a close eye on the CFA which may lead to desperate measures and a need for “instant” results, when that isn’t possible.

S: Who know what might happen.

B: Well, one of the people who has long-term plans for Chinese football at all levels has just decided to get his hands “dirty” once again. Wang Jianlin seems bored just giving his money to the CFA and wants to start a team again.

S: What does he have up his sleeve?

B: News is Wanda has submitted an application to the CFA to form “Beijing Wanda”. The announcement came on the same day they sent their first group of 30 youngsters to Spain to study at three different La Liga clubs.

S: My initial reaction is that sounds stupid and ridiculous.

B: The idea they are forming a club for their youngsters is interesting, especially that they aren’t just buying back Shide, the team he used to own.

S: I’m just concerned that Chinese football resources are not being spread widely enough. We have two clubs in Dalian, Shanghai and Guangzhou, we don’t need more two club cities. Although at least Beijing has a decent number of people interested in watching the CSL.

B: Well, there are two parts to that. I absolutely don’t think there’s anything wrong with cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou having two clubs in theory. Also, money is going to go to those three cities, that’s just reality. If I’m an investor, I’d want to have a team in Beijing over, say, Lanzhou or Hefei or Kunming. However, all three teams that have two clubs have seen that one of the two teams have horrible support. It takes time to build a support base, granted, but it’s going to be a real hard sell.

S:  In theory two clubs is a great thing. But just not at this point in time. The investor angle is just another example of how the interests of big business are usually not in the interests of the greater good of the game. Beijing already has Guoan, you know all about their youth infrastructure, I think if there is any young guy in Beijing with a burning desire to make it in football he at least has somewhere to go. But we saw our Grassroots correspondent Trevor write a while back that the rural areas of China would be a better place to look and I fully agree. The one child policy is less of a factor there and you can always go back to being a farmer if your pro career doesn’t work out.

B: The Wanda program is taking youngsters from all over the country (including Beijing). In only taking 30 players a year, you probably won’t get much from it, but it’s not a bad thing. We can argue about their plans, but they’re doing a lot more than most are.

S: Yeah of course its good, I just think at this point in time, Chinese football needs to be more widespread, for one thing people living in the hinterland don’t have quite as many alternatives to going and watching a CSL game. There are whole provinces who don’t have any team of any kind.

B: I don’t know exactly where all 30 of the Wanda kids come from this year, but I know it’s not exclusive to Beijing. Yes, it would be great to have activity across the country, to have more provinces represented, but that doesn’t have much to do with Wanda.
Sending 30 youngsters a year to Spain isn’t going to guarantee the national team will become great, but it will lead to an improvement.

S: Yeah it’s better than nothing. But I think this is another sign of the elite mentality in Chinese sports training. I bet those 30 are nowhere near the most gifted footballers of their age in China, they are just the best 30 they could find, based on the rather narrow spread and shallow penetration of their youth football system.

B: I’m not entirely sure how they picked the kids they did, so I’m not going to comment. Time will tell, if they can get a number of these kids in the CSL in 10 years, a few on the national team, then it will be a success. We’ll see…

S: I hope it will make a difference. But they did this before, sending kids to Brazil, I think only a couple made it. It’s a good idea in principle but as above, kids really develop at different rates and I worry that the criteria used to select who gets sent abroad may be flawed or overly narrow, like focused on physical ability rather than technical, or their mentality.

B: The Brazilian experiment wasn’t this permanent. It can be argued if it was a success or not, a number of players made it into the national team. Again, I don’t know what criteria were used, so I can’t comment. I think the CFA has adjusted  to the modern reality of football, but I don’t know to what extent.

S: I think the CFA has a way to go in adjusting to reality. But at any rate, these are respectable efforts, I really hope they pay off.

B: I can’t say much on that, we’re getting more into Trevor’s territory.

S: We are, I think it’s about time Mr Lamb entered the pub, last time he was in Shanghai he left the bar early to display his ball skills somewhere.

B: On the subject of Spain and ball skills, what say you on the most recent headlines about Cristiano Ronaldo to Shenhua?  I actually think his diving skills would be average by Chinese standards.

S: Argh, I can’t bear him personally. I think it just sums up the insanity which surrounds the CSL these days, we just heard last week that Drogba and Anelka were leaving Shenhua because they club couldn’t afford their wages, but just days later the headlines are like “Cristiano Ronaldo to Shenhua”, for fucks sake, are they just making it up?

B: Maybe….

S: Zhu Jun just looks like a crazed court jester throwing gold coins in everyone’s faces whilst laughing stupidly.

B: I don’t imagine anything comes of this, but once again Shanghai’s in the news.

S: Yeah we talked about this last week. I’m finding it increasingly tedious.

B: I think this is what happens when the media has a lot of time and very little news.

S: Yeah it’s perhaps not a coincidence this has come out during a CSL break. Seems even the Chinese media doesn’t want to focus on its national team.

B: There has been very little discussion of the national team. I’ve spent more time paying attention to the blind footballers who are taking part in the Paralympics than the national team. The good news is that the CFA seems to be taking the time to get on their shit and have announced the 2013 season will kick off on March 9.

S: I think there’s a very unkind and un-pc joke to be made in regards to comparing blind football players to China’s first XI. But we here are above such things in the Pub. Right?

B: Anyways….anything that isn’t Shenhua related, as they seem to be the center of the news these days, with Anelka recently leaving Shanghai.

S: Yeah I saw that, the club has made no comment. But it was also mentioned that he came back to Shanghai last week before he his due date back to resume training. Frankly I think they should continue training during these breaks, Shenhua certainly haven’t been playing well enough to merit any mid-season holidays for the players.

B: The Asian and relegation race sure got interesting with the results from last weekend.

S: It certainly did – Henan surprised us all. Looks like no matter what happens at the top, the bottom is where it’s at, as it were.

B: True, they’re still two points away from safety, but there are six teams within five points of them right now.

S: I think it’s too tight to call, Henan winning just shows how quickly the situation can change, all we can say for now is that there will be some more big wins and big losses from here on in and lots of to-ing and fro-ing

B: True. In the fight for an Asian spot, Tianjin sure blew it, only managing a draw against Shide in the very weird first match of Round 24. Unusual when a single round goes half a month

S: Yes that is unusual. But to be honest it’s so tight everywhere there’s not much to be said about the table other than watch this space.

B: Very true. I think for anyone fighting for an Asian spot these days, they have to start supporting Evergrande these days. Though did we discuss this in the pub last week?

S: We did, but it was true then and it’s still true now. Is Evergrande the only top 4 side left in the cup? I can’t recall who progressed.

B: For the time being, Guizhou is there as well. The next leg is Shandong hosting Guizhou and Evergrande traveling to Shenyang to take on Liaoning.

S: Yeah Evergrande certainly has a heavy load, CSL, CFA Cup, ACL and 7 players in the China squad. Lucky they have those two extra foreigners!

B: We didn’t think of it then, but if Guizhou were to finish third and win the cup, does that lead to 4th AND 5th then getting into the ACL? That might be what everyone should be pulling for.

S: 5th place in the ACL? You lost me.

B: Sorry, my bad…

S: Oh you mean if Guangzhou win the ACL?

B: No, something else entirely. Let’s just drop that…

S: Alright, must be that shot of baijiu I slipped in your beer.

B: Is it time to get out the pub before things get worse? Not sure there’s much more to discuss today…

S: I think so. Taxi for Bcheng!

B: Cheers *stumbling out of the pub*

S: Don’t worry about the tab, it’s on me. 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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