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Guangzhou R&F 2012 season review: Jekyll and Hyde

Guangzhou R&F ended their first CSL season in a very creditable seventh place but will still be disappointed to miss out on the ACL as the club were in the third qualifying position after 27 out of the 30 CSL games had been played. R&F had the fourth most prolific attack in the league but coupled this with the second leakiest defence and it was the latter that would cost them in the final stages of the season.

This was R&F’s first full year in Guangzhou as the club moved from Shenzhen in mid-2011 and 2012 was greeted by something of a Brazilian revolution in the Cantonese capital with coach Sergio Farias and players Davi, Rafael Coelho, Jumar and Leonardo all hailing from the land of the samba. Australian Royston Griffiths completed the club’s foreign player quota and had a very solid season in central midfield. As for the Brazilians, Coelho ended the season as the CSL’s third highest scorer and Davi had the second highest assists total but Jumar was injured in a CFA match against Hunan in June and would play no further part in the campaign. He still fared better than his compatriot Leonardo though who was a disastrous signing as he managed only a solitary substitute appearance before departing in the transfer window as his contract wasn’t renewed.

Davi had an electrifying start to the season but his scoring rate dropped after Yakubu’s arrival

R&F got off to a fantastic start to the season with home wins against Beijing and city rivals Guangzhou Evergrande in the first two games and continued the momentum so that after round 12 they were in second place in the CSL. Home ground Yuexiushan was a real fortress as despite a far from intimidating atmosphere due to low supporter numbers, R&F had a 100% home record before their enforced move to the University City Stadium. This masked the fact that dark side of R&F appeared on road trips as they were to take only seven points away from home all year and three of these were in the return leg of the derby against Evergrande so only seven points were gained outside Guangzhou.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of R&F made the second third of the season very difficult as it included tough away trips to Beijing and Jiangsu. On the plus side it was during this period that Yakubu arrived and completely changed the way R&F played. Less mobile and energetic than Zhang Yuan and Zhang Shuo who had previously filled the lone striker spot, Yakubu quickly became the focal point for R&F attacks with his greater physical presence and would go on to score ten goals in fourteen league and cup games.

Yakubu celebrates one of his 9 CSL goals, the other was in the CFA Cup.

Entering the final third of the season R&F lay in sixth position before working their way back up to third and an ACL spot but then took only one point from their final three games and so slipped to seventh, their lowest position all year but still only 3 points adrift of fourth position which may be good enough for an ACL spot. This point was salvaged by a brilliant last-minute goal against Jiangsu in the final match of the season and for all the great work by Davi, Yakubu and Li Yan (from Hebei) in the build-up, fittingly it was the Cantonese Lu Lin who provided the finish.

Guangzhou R&F 2012

Number

CSL Rank

Wins

13

4th highest

Goals Scored

47

4th highest

Losses

14

2nd highest

Goals Conceded

49

2nd highest

Draws

3

Lowest

R&F players celebrate captain Li Zhe’s last gasp winner against Shanghai Shenxin

As well as narrowing the sharp contrast between the statistics for wins and losses, home and away results and attack (see all the goals here) versus defence, R&F could also have done with a Dr Jekyll to keep their players off the operating table. As Leonardo was signed unfit the club never had five fit foreigners to call on before his departure and in the gap before Yakubu arrived Jumar got injured so that for the rest of the year R&F never had more than four foreigners in the match squad and towards the end of the year only had two, Davi and Yakubu. Centre back Xu Bo was also prone to injury and missed more than a third of the season due to various injuries and suspensions which didn’t help with R&F’s shocking set piece defence. These problems make only narrowly missing out on the ACL in R&F’s first CSL season even more impressive.

Goalkeeper Cheng Yuelei was the only ever present and had a very good season. Brazilian midfielder Davi, captain Li Zhe and CSL All Star and my pick for R&F player of the year right back Tang Miao only missed one game each and were all key to R&F’s successes on the field. In the stands, Yakubu’s arrival gained the club about a hundred African fans and once term started again the University student fan club added their voices which helped the atmosphere inside the University City Stadium.

R&F were ultimately left with nothing to show for a very creditable first CSL season

There are hopes that next season will see a return to Yuexiushan but if it doesn’t R&F need to get more ballboys at University City. There are currently just six for the whole pitch and only four of them have spare balls so any momentum is instantly lost as soon as the ball goes over the advertising hoardings. Other hopes for the next season include seeing more of Dr Jekyll and less of Mr Hyde in R&F’s away performances and a stiffening of the backline. With Yakubu the only confirmed foreign player a new centre back and/or re-signing defensive midfielder Jumar should be priorities. The squad also needs more strength in-depth and this has started as on loan midfielder Li Yan has now signed a permanent deal.

Given the agony and ecstasy which following Guangzhou R&F this season has brought, there were only three draws all year and two of these felt like wins with the equalisers coming very late, it is a hard year to sum up due to the stark contrasts mentioned above. However, this was R&F’s first CSL season and whilst there are problems to fix there are also plenty of positives to build on for the next CSL campaign.

Donald began following Guangzhou R&F having moved to China in the same year that R&F moved to Guangzhou. The club's first foreign season ticket holder, Donald was able to watch three seasons at Yuexiushan before returning to the UK.

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