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Pub Talk: Don’t look back in anger

The lads raise a glass this week on the CSL season 2012, with everything bar the CFA cup now decided. Or so they think – whilst mourning the apparent death of Dalian Shide, the question of who replaces them in the CSL comes up. The ACL placings are under the microscope, changing last-minute again. Various players of the year are bandied about, and rude words and obscenities are flying in the pub – shocking. The European sports press gets panned, and potential and actual moves are talked about. Meanwhile, more obscenities fly thanks to an old rap number. That’s the curious combination on offer in the Pub this week.

B: It’s been a hard-drinking few months for me, we’re back in the pub today for one of the last times this year, I’m kinda sad (though my liver isn’t).

S: This time last year we thought Pub visits would be infrequent over the close season. But it didn’t turn out that way.

B: I think its even less likely to turn out that way this season, it’s going to be a crazy off-season. I’m not looking forward to all the media bs…

S: Yeah. I am just imagining the endless amount of CSL horseshit the European sporting press is going to squeeze out of its ignorance ringpiece.

B: I was bored with all that months ago, I’m afraid it’s going to get worse…I think both our clubs will be involved heavily in it.

S: Most definitely. I wish I had a pound for every time I had heard a CSL transfer rumour.

B: It’s too bad…this season definitely should have demonstrated how important it is to sign the right foreigners, guys who are doing it for love of the game and who still have some desire in them.

S: Yes. Several names spring to mind….

B: That’s a given. At the same time, we have the domestic transfer window, coaching changes, ACL spots, etc etc. There’s a lot to keep us busy this year.

S: Yeah. Well, I think its time to look back on the CSL campaign. Your thoughts in general?

B: What a year it’s been. I think its given us everything we could have asked for, with exciting races across the board. To me, it really felt like a turning point for professional football in China.

S: Yeah its definitely been a good year. Most of all I was glad that Evergrande didn’t run away with it. They were the best team clearly, but still it was a bit more competitive this year.

B: It was far more competitive this season! Though you’re right, no team really has the same amount of talent as Evergrande and once again I think we’re hoping that some teams realize that its going to take loosening the purse strings a bit if they want to compete.

S: It was great to see Sainty do so well, I would love to know exactly what their finances are compared to Evergrandes.

B: I’m interested in seeing the club’s finances as well, but I think its obvious that Jiangsu’s salaries are probably half (maybe even three or four times less) what Evergrande spent

S: I think that’s very likely, what would be more interesting is seeing Sainty’s next to other top clubs.

B: You mean Guoan and Guizhou?

S: Yes, plus other teams in the top six.

B: I think Guangzhou is far and away above everyone (except Shanghai Shenhua), but the other top teams would be somewhat closer.
I still think with what Guangzhou spent on their seven foreigners, no team comes anywhere near them.

S: Maybe Shenhua is close with Drogba and Anelka, to a lesser extend Moreno. But, who knows. Changing tack, there are to unresolved issues this season. One of them involves, or you could say no longer involved, Dalian Shide.

B: It’s sad that one of the league’s “old guard” is now gone.

S: Yeah. I feel a repeat of last week’s conversation coming on… so, have there been any developments?

B: The biggest development was the announcement (that we covered) regarding Aerbin purchasing Shide.

S: There seems to be confusion as to what will happen next. Will the teams merge?

B: The confusion stems from what the new entity will be, whether it will still be called Dalian Aerbin or whether it will take a new name.
That hasn’t been decided yet, and I’m sure we’ll need plenty of time before a decision is reached.

S: Yep. Probably right before the season starts.

B: I would be very surprised if that was the case. Even by Chinese standards, there are four months before the season starts, that should be plenty of time to figure it out. I expect we’ll have information no later than mid-January.

S: There you go again with exact forecasts. Have you learned nothing?

B: Haha, “no later than mid-January” seems far from exact…If left up to their own devices, who knows when they’d form a club, but the transfer window opens on January 1 and so I’d expect them to have everything worked out with their players by then, and once that’s taken care of, if the name hasn’t been handled already, it gives them some time to handle it. Plus, Nike’s sure to be pushing them for their new name/logo so they can get their merchandise out.

S: You’d think it would be sorted out well before the season begins. But this is the CSL. Just sayin’.

B: I have a feeling I’ll be right about this one, it will be sorted out pretty quickly. Hopefully the same can be said for the now open spot in the CSL. Will it just be Shenxin staying up? Will there be a “playoff” between Shenxin and Wuhan (who finished third in the China League)? Will Shenxin be playing Henan to see who stays up?

S: I think Shenxin v Fujian would be the fairest way to do it. Although my hometown team where in a similar position in the SPL this summer, thanks to cheats XI Rangers going bust and Sevco Franchise FC being rightly made to start again at the bottom of the Scottish league. But Dunfermline had no such chance for a playoff.

B: I agree completely, it should be a Shenxin vs. Fujian playoff. Honestly I’d love to see Fujian win it too, just for more regional diversity, though they’d have to move to an actual city. That said, I do feel for Zhu Jiong’s side, kind of surprising they ended up where they did when you look at the stats.

S: Yeah I really don’t think the CSL needs three teams from one city, especially not from Shanghai. It happened once before in 2006 I think, diversity is the key as you say. And yes, the stats have some interesting anomalies this year.

B: That said, if the playoff happens, I expect we’ll see exactly that, three Shanghai sides in the CSL in 2013.

S: It’s a good bet, Shenxin were a bit unlucky to finish where they did. Oh well, sad though it is, Dalian only having one team next year is a consolation.

B: I don’t think it can be said enough what a sad day it is for the league. Shide were one of the most stable teams in the league, with a longer history than all but a few other clubs. The background of what happened is difficult and I don’t really want to go into it in these extremely sensitive times, so in that sense it’s a bit unique, but then again, I think it also shows how this could happen to any CSL club.

S: I have to agree with all points. It also doubly sad that this is happening when the league is awash with cash. History counts for fuck-all in Chinese football.

B: The league’s still 18 years old, it hasn’t gone through all its growing pains…

S: As long as things like Dalian S vanishing into thin air are an ever-present risk, the league will always struggle to nurture strong fan bases, and without that, ultimately the game will never reach its potential here.

B: I don’t know how much it plays into fans’ thinking across the country. Sure it will make a difference to fans in Dalian, or say in Guizhou and Xian (if they get a team), but across the country, I think everyone wants to imagine themselves as safe.
There are plenty of things that are unique about what happened to Shide, which make it a rarity.

S: You just said it could happen to any team. So what’s your point?

B: A little all over the place, eh?

S: We’ve seen enthusiastic and dedicated fans abruptly see their club cease to exist, two seasons in a row now, so you can’t say its a rarity.

B: Let me say that I think that fans like us across the country, who are part of a supporter’s section, were devastated to see Shide go, we know and talk with Shide fans from time to time and we have great memories of visits to Dalian. At the same time, it made us think about our own clubs, realize that things might not always be the way they are for us. That said, the circumstances of the fall of Shide, that’s something I don’t ever expect to see again.

S: As far as moving clubs about and alienating dedicated supporters of the CSL, the individual circumstances don’t matter that much. I said a minute ago we’ve seen this twice in the space of a year, actually I was wrong, this is the third time, last year we had Nanchang move to Shanghai and become Shenxin.

B: The situation in Nanchang and Xi’an were about “modern football”, it’s about making the quickest buck. Where the Shide situation plays into this is that these were all business issues, it’s what happens when you have the club’s name come directly from the company that owns it.

S: Technicalities B, fact is it’s plain wrong.

B: I feel your pain, but it takes time. I actually think if the Dalian club chooses a moniker like Dalian FC or Dalian United, it will be a major step in the right direction where the ownership could change without the identity changing.

S: I hope so. Anyway we talked about this in depth last week, let’s move on. Who is leaving which clubs? Wang Guangyi has moved from Shenhua to Tianjin as of this week. He was formerly of Tianjin Locomotive and moved to Shanghai with team-mates Song Boxuan and Feng Renliang. But seems he didn’t get the breaks.

B: There’s a lot of talk about movement, but not a lot that’s going to happen anytime soon. Last season we talked about how many of the “big names” being discussed were the same who were talked about the year before, I think that’s going to be the same this year. Yet again, it will be Liaoning’s Yu Hanchao and Yang Xu, Qingdao’s Zheng Long, Shenhua’s Feng Renliang, etc.

S: I think Zheng Long is on his way to Evergrande, as well as Feng Renliang.

B: So other than Feng, what are the big rumors around Shenhua these days?

S: Evergrande also want Wu Xi. I think if Shenhua sell him, I wont be able to take them seriously as a team with title ambitions.

B: You still take them seriously as such?!

S: HAHAHAAH. To be exact, a team which WANTS to win the title, regardless of whether anyone thinks they have a chance or not.

B: Selling off those two would definitely be a blow, a return to a few years back when they sold off a lot of young talent. It would be hard to stomach.

S: I think it would make Shenhua look like a total joke.

B: It certainly would.

S: Again, we talked about this last week. Looks like Feng is off. I disagree with that decision 100%. But, well, maybe something going on we don’t know. But selling Wu Xi too, would indicate a policy of being a club that sells its best Chinese players to other Chinese teams. Stupid considering how much they spent on Drogba and Anelka.

B: Exactly! Fortunately things aren’t so bad at Guoan. Darko Matic was re-signed, now the only real talk is that Xu Liang will be leaving. It would be sad to see him go, his free kicks are amazing, but he also was incredibly frustrating at times. For Guoan, its more about who will come in. Not a lot is being talked about domestic targets, disappointing to say the least, but the focus will certainly be on foreign signings and, most of all, will Pacheco stay or not.

S: I saw that Darko had re-signed, is that good news? (For Guoan fans)

B: It’s definitely good news. He’s starting to show his age, but honestly he’d probably be my first choice if putting together a CSL side for next season.

S: He’s been up north a while eh? Interesting how foreigners never stay for more than 18 months at Shenhua.

B: He’s been with Guoan since ’09 and is a true fan favorite. Few players in the CSL show the same amount of heart and love for their club.

S: I can’t think of many. Shandong have had a few longer term foreigners. And there have been foreigners who have stayed in China for a long time, switching from club-to-club.

B: Yeah, sad to say but the only other club that kept foreigners around for a while was Shide, with James Chamanga the longest sesrving foreigner, with Shide since ’08, while Kamburov played three seasons in Dalian.

S: Yeah, and Luis Ramirez has played for quite a few clubs for many years. Antar as well, two full seasons at Shandong? He may stay longer?

B: Talk is Antar will be heading to Gongti next season.

S: Is that good?

B: Him and Darko would make for a really strong midfield, but he’s not exactly a youngster. I kinda hope Guoan go in a different direction.

S: I remember the last time Guoan signed a foreign midfielder directly from another CSL club it didn’t work out all that well – Walter Martinez.

B: You mean Emil Martinez. Well, he didn’t light the world on fire, but after this year’s foreigner glut, I’d take his ’09 performance any day.

S: Yeah I knew i had his name wrong. Fuck Martinez, fuck fuck Martinez… do you remember the 2 Live Crew?

B: Indeed I do

S: Then you know what funny song

B: Though the word “fuck” only makes me thing of one thing, Chinese football…The Chinese team went to the U19 Asian Cup and lost all three group matches (to Iraq, Thailand, and South Korea).

S: Fuck!

B: Exactly…If you look at the names of the team from 2008 and 2010, there are a lot of familiar ones there, this failure is incredibly disappointing because no matter how bad the national team results get, there always seems to be some reason for hope at the lower levels. This time around, it seems obvious there’s no hope anywhere.

S: Depression all round. We can only hope the CSL resurgence can help turn things around at grassroots level.

B: Yes, hopefully this failure will ram the message through that things need to be changed fast. The loss to Thailand, especially, is an insult. It just goes to show how the two countries seem to be heading in opposite directions.

S: Yeah Thailand are on the up, their national league is also booming from what I hear.

B: I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they’ve put together a decent group of footballers, the domestic league appears to be growing as well. They dropped the number of foreigners a club can have, they have a number of football specific stadiums, its a lot of what China should be doing.

S: It’s not rocket science, as they say. But for some reason there’s just no concerted effort in China. Although I’m glad to see Tom Byer is now in charge of Chinese schools football. He is a household name in Japan with his schools coaching, seems the Chinese FA have done something right at least in hiring him.

B: With the way the present is, all we can do is hope for the future.
On the subject of U19’s, it appears like a certain former U19 and current member of Beijing Guoan is going to win the CSL’s Young Player of the Year award tonight, though he isn’t even in the running for the award.

S: Who is that?

B: Zhang Xizhe. It appears it will come down to him or Changchun’s Pei Shuai

S:: What’s your view on Zhang?

B: Haha, we have a complicated relationship.

S: Do tell

B: In my Guoan fandom, there has never been a player I disliked more and who I regularly scream obscenities at from the terrace. I could have sworn that with the number of starts he got this year, he was Pacheco’s “god son” or something. However, he did start to play a little better in the last few games.

S:: You scream obscenities from the terrace? Shame on you!

B: Not obscenities, per se, but more than once there’s been a “废物” or “干儿子”.

S: How rude!

B: Yeah, the terrace is no place for such crude language.

S:: Certainly not. I think contributors are above such crude behaviour, don’t you agree?

B: You know, we aren’t so civilized up in the north.

S: It seems not. So how has Zhang managed to get nominated for the young player of the year?

B: Because he was generous with the red envelope?

S: Ooohhh. Scathing attack!

B: He scored four goals this season, including two and an assist in the final two months (and, of course, that 92nd minute goal against Evergrande in the last match of the year). He’s also been a regular in the U19 and U23 setup, whereas my personal vote (and current leader on sina by 59%) Ji Xiang was never really in the youth setup.

S: Ji Xiang is a far better bet. But I seem to detect there is always a bias in the system towards players who were represented at youth level. As if they think voting for someone who wasn’t capped at youth level would be an admission they hadn’t done their job properly. Which wouldn’t be the case. Players develop at different speeds. Amongst other things….

B: Yes, the majority of guys who are contenders for the award all were in the system.

S: So the CFA cup final is coming up soon. Will you be tuning in?

B: Sure, it will be good to have Chinese football to watch.

S: Evergrande your favourites, yeah?

B: I think Guizhou’s going to win it, though I’m hoping for Evergrande to do so (lesser so now that there’s talk of China getting four spots in next year’s ACL).

S: Yeah AFC, WTF? Four slots or what? Make your minds up guys!

B: That would make things too simple and give us less to talk about, I guess we should be thanking them.

S: Good point. I really can’t understand why these things aren’t decided much sooner though.

B: I don’t understand either, it makes absolutely no sense why these things can’t be decided and stuck to. That said, I know it’s not going to go down to 3, so there’s that to be happy about. If anything, it will benefit a team, instead of hurting them like last year.

The lads raise their glasses on CSL season 2012 this week, with the fat lady having sung and only the CFA cup final to play. The apparent death of Dalian Shide is again mourned, the ACL’s latest about turn mulled over, and various players of the year looked at.

S: True, but to be honest, I think they need to spread the teams out a bit in the eastern side of the ACL. Every year it’s basically a Chinese team, Korean team, Japanese team and Australian team in each group, plus a couple of randoms.

B: Well, that’s all there are spots for. This year you’ll see an additional Thai side and an Indonesian club. The reality is that the other leagues just aren’t at the same level to compete. Who isn’t represented? Hong Kong? Singapore? Cambodia? Vietnam?

S: I think that is the rationale behind it. But in recent years a Singaporean team competed and they did alright.

B: I think they’ve got it about right.

S: But yeah, its true there are not a lot of other leagues in great shape, to provide teams.

B: So does that bring another week to a close?

S: I think on that note, it does.

B: Cheers, man! It’s been fun as always

S: Yes it has, cheers mate, untill next time.

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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