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Pub Talk: A friendly cup final pint

With the season winding down, there’s not an awful lot to talk about besides the usual transfer rumour tedium. However the lads still make it out to the pub this week for a swift one, the second leg of the CFA cup final and the midweek friendly with New Zealand are the main topics, not an awful lot to discuss apart from that, but who can resist pub talk? Who indeed.

S: Pub Time once again. Hic. What’s news B?

B: Last night saw the national team lace up their boots for the last time in 2012, playing to a 1-1 draw against a decent New Zealand side

S: Yes, I was in attendance at Hongkou last night. I think China gave a pretty decent account of themselves, especially in the first half.

B: Oh, you made it out? I believe the announced attendance was 18,000?

S: Yeah, I was there. The attendance sounds about right, If I had to guess maybe a slightly lower.

B: Not a bad showing, especially considering the local side’s CSL attendance. Anyways, to the match, like you said, though New Zealand had some good chances, I was impressed with China in the first half, with one glaring exception.

S: Who was that?

B: Gao Lin

S: I thought he looked quite dangerous and was involved in the game a lot, he’s quite good in the air. But he wasted a golden chance apiece in both halves.

B: He was definitely involved, but my complaint about him, which has existed for many years, is that he’s good at getting himself in place, but not actually finishing.

S: Agree, but is there someone better who should be getting the chance ahead of him now? I’ve always considered Han Peng China’s best all-round striker, but he had a poor season at Luneng this year.

B: I think Yang Xu is the obvious choice, and he’s showed it at the NT level already with an impressive strike rate. Or even use Zhang Chengdong or Yu Dabao, though they may be better suited as an attacking mid. But this goes to a greater issue I have with Camacho’s managing.

S: Which is?

B: His roster shows a total lack of imagination, basically its just Evergrande’s starting XI with bits and pieces. It’s pathetic, especially when you look at all the youngsters New Zealand brought last night.

S: Yeah the NZ coach said last night he brought an under-strength squad and that his side did enough to win.

B: I don’t know, the few Kiwis that impressed me the most were some of the youngest players on the pitch. Whereas China had very little in the way of youth in the lineup.

S: Yeah. I thought Wang Dalei had a good game though, despite being at fault for NZ’s equalizer.

B: Yeah, he’s one of the very few youngsters that Camacho used last night. Wang made a few big saves and I think he’s quickly going to challenge Yang Zhi for the starting spot. He’s definitely matured over the past season.

S: Yeah I always thought he was a talented keeper, last season he had a bad time both with form and injury problems, this year he’s starting to live up to his potential. Hopefully Shenhua won’t punt him along like they seem to do with all their national team players.

B: I just wish we’d see Camacho give a chance to some more youngsters. I can’t for the life of me figure out why Zheng Zhi, Sun Xiang, and Zhao Peng still make it into the starting XI.

S: I have to agree, none of these guys are going to get any better. At least Zheng Zhi has the European experience though, that’s probably worth keeping on. Camacho has to realise though, China can’t really do significantly worse, he doesn’t have much to lose from injecting some fresh blood.

B: Even with Zheng, I don’t see why it’s worth keeping on. The focus needs to be on putting together a squad for the future, a 32-year-old Zheng isn’t helping you with that.
I am seriously left wondering if Camacho is under strict controls from the CFA or if he’s just having a laugh and playing it safe.

S: I imagine he’s leaned on from certain quarters to look favourably upon certain players. That is the Chinese way.

B: Perhaps that’s it, Zheng’s still paying for his position, LV suitcases go a long way. It just doesn’t seem like Camacho is willing to look beyond Evergrande.

S: And Evergrande are stockpiling national team players. What a curious situation.

B: Granted, almost all the Evergrande players (I think Qin Sheng is the only exception from last night’s lineup) had NT appearances before joining the team, but still, its disappointing, especially when I look back to what Gao Hongbo did.

S: In fact, in a curious parallel, The Chinese national team and Evergrande both did exactly the same thing at a critical juncture in their campaigns – fired a successful Asian manager and brought in a big-name European coach. Is that a co-incidence? That is, fired an Asian manager who had been relatively successful.

B: I believe any similarities on that front are all coincidental. Especially when Evergrande did what the CFA should have done, bring in a world class manager instead of a boob.

S: I’m not sure what to think. I think it’s not all a co-incidence. Both parties wanted big-name managers. Although you have reasonable doubts about him, Camacho managed Real and Spain, the CFA thought with that experience, he should be good enough to make a difference in China.

B: He managed Real for less than a season and while he was in charge of Spain, he didn’t exactly light the world on fire for them. I don’t want to rehash this debate, but outside of the CFA, he’s nobodies idea of a “big name”.

S: Right, I don’t think his record is really impressive either, I’m saying, this is how the CFA thought. But yeah you have a point, I think everyone would have rather seen Lippi in charge rather than Camacho, if the choice could be made.

B: I mean, there’s a connection in that you have two really rich people who don’t really know a lot about football and just wanted to bring in a “prestige” name and that’s why the changes were made. It’s the Chinese way. But I don’t think there was any collusion or any choice of timing or anything like that between Evergrande and the CFA, which is why I said its a coincidence.

S: I think we agree about this, you’ve obviously had too much beer.

B: So we talked a lot about Evergrande and a little about Gao Hongbo, what did you think of their first leg clash?

S: I thought it was a pretty decent game, carried a solid report of the leg. I think Guizhou missed their chance though really, I think Evergrande are in the driving seat. But anything could happen yet.

B: It was a good first leg (and not to pat ourselves on the back but the report was great). Obviously the result favored Evergrande, giving them a slight advantage this weekend, but it’s still an open affair. I kinda feel like we’re headed to penalties.

S: Yeah big up to Chris for the report. It could very well goto penalties, what an exciting spectacle that would be.

B: I think if you’re a Evergrande hater or a Guizhou fan, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially with the additional wear and tear on Evergrande’s NT players.

S: Yeah Guizhou definitely have a chance. But if I were a betting man, er, I would have a punt on Evergrande.

B: Only Dalian (more reason for tears) and Shandong have ever done the double (both doing it twice). I have a feeling we’ll see Evergrande do it as they always seem to find the goal they need.

S: Yeah. Credit to them for that, wouldn’t you agree, sir?

B: Certainly. Of course these two sides are going to be major players in the transfer market, with news of talks between Guizhou and Frank Lampard in the news a lot lately.

S: Yeah. Actually I have a feeling there might be some substance to that one. Famous last words!

B: I wouldn’t be surprised. Guizhou’s been involved in some rumors this past year that came to naught, but they weren’t exactly stingy with their spending. I think with the maotai money they have, and the excitement around the team, they’re going to make a big signing in the offseason.

S: Yes, plus I heard on the grapevine from a very good source that a “major European player” is coming to China in the close season. That’s not surprising of course, the real question is the identity of that individual, or indeed, individuals…

B: We’re certainly going to see more than one, but will Shenhua continue to be a buyer?

S: That’s a very good question. Anelka is apparently on his way out, which is unsurprising to everyone. It’s all down to the shareholder dispute and how it’s resolved. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say Shenhua will continue their big-spending ways and the dispute will be resolved. I just hope they realise buying three foreign forwards is pointless.

B: I think we might see continued spending with R&F and Aerbin, but I don’t know if anyone else is going to jump into the fray. Maybe we’ll see Guoan doing so, but I think it’s going to be much of the same.

S: Yeah I’d say that’s likely, we’ll see the spenders spend more and the more sensible teams spend sensibly. Unless there are some sudden changes in ownership, which isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

B: Anything is possible in Chinese football.

S: Indeed, we’ve seen it many times.

B: Time to end our pub session for another week?

S: I think so. Until the next transfer rumour!

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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