With another dreadful season behind them, Shanghai Shenhua are left lying in the dirt licking their wounds yet again as the dust from CSL 2012 settles. Shenhua correspondents Steve Crooks and Cameron Wilson, both north terrace season ticket holders, get together to rate each squad member’s contribution, or lack of, this season. This review doesn’t cover numerous fringe players who made only a handful of appearances this year.
1. Wang Da Lei – Goalkeeper – Appearances (sub):29 – Goals: 0 – Assists: 0 – Yellows:0 – Reds:0
Wilson: 8.5/10. Quite simply Shenhua’s best performer this year, and possibly CSL Chinese player of the year. Relegation would have been an even more distinct possibility without him. Much improved over last season under Ian Walker’s tutelage, fully deserved his first China call-up.
Crooks: 10/10. Starting out with full marks feels odd — until you look back and realize you can’t recall a single blip of any importance over the whole season. What a difference a year makes — from a temperamental and inconsistent prospect to the best keeper in the league and rare bright spot in this campaign.
3. Moises – Central defence – Appearances (sub):17 – Goals: 2 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 3 – Reds:0
Wilson: 6/10. A solid defender who came good after a shaky start and an appalling mistake in Beijing. Steadied Shenhua’s notoriously loose defence, unlucky to be the fall guy foreign player who had to make way for Drogba, – the back four leaked more goals with him not in it in the second half of the season. Already left the club.
Crooks: 6/10. Went quickly from hideous to solid, and the big Brazilian’s quota-enforced absence was a big factor in the side’s late-season defensive backsliding. A slightly higher-caliber stopper in his body-on-the-line mould would be very welcome for 2012.
4. Wang Lin – Central defence – Appearances (sub):8(6) – Goals: 0 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 1 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 4.5/10. A first team regular last season, Wang found himself on the bench more often than not and regularly played out of position. All told, a fairly mediocre member of the squad, and not given much chance to make an impact this year.
Crooks: 5/10. Didn’t do a lot wrong when called upon, and might have a future as a wide midfielder if this year’s cameos are anything to go by — an option at right-back if the Wu Xi rumor mill is to be believed.
5. Dai Lin – Central defence – Appearances (sub): 23 – Goals: 1 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 7 – Reds: 1
Wilson: 6/10. A talented defender, and good distributor of the ball. But Dal Lin’s indiscipline often lets him and his teammates down. Needs a calm and imposing defender to play alongside him. Accordingly his performances dropped somewhat after Moises was dropped to make a foreign slot available for Drogba in the second half of the year. Will be a key man next year.
Crooks: 8/10. Alongside Wang Dalei, a big improvement from 2011. The talent has never been in doubt, but the maturity and application have come along well in 2012. Apart from two late-season meltdowns when missing the steadying presence of Moises (a disciplinary one in Jinan and positional one in Guizhou), didn’t really put a foot wrong this year.
6. Yu Tao – Central defence – Appearances (sub): 28 – Goals: 0 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6.5/10. Shenhua’s long-standing de-facto captain, he may be getting on a bit but he’s still a very effective defensively minded midfielder. Unfortunately he was forced to play at left-back and in central defence for much of the season, where he manfully strived to do what he could in roles he is unsuited for, particularly centre-half. The Shanghainese veteran added some much-needed experience to the side.
Crooks: 6/10. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Yu Tao — a consummate pro whose attitude allows him to be played out of position far too often. Blatantly a top bloke and solid midfielder, Yu is nonetheless a mediocre stand-in full back and a frankly poor centre half — reads the game well but lacks the physical attributes needed for the position.
7. Feng Renliang – Right winger – Appearances (sub): 23 – Goals: 4 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 0 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6.5/10. A difficult year for Feng who found himself slipping down the pecking order with Shenhua’s influx of foreign attacking talent. Nevertheless, he had a decent year, scoring more goals than Anelka and laying on a couple. One of Shenhua’s most talented domestic players, he looks as if he may never reach the potential he showed in 2010, especially if he goes to Guangzhou Evergrande.
Crooks: 7/10. Feng bounced back from 2011 with a strong first half of the season, having added a functioning left foot and head to his previous one-trick repertoire. Goals duly followed, only for everything to go badly wrong again for the final third of the season — in the little post-Drogba game time he has been afforded, Feng has looked awful. The verdict is out on whether this is more an ongoing Feng Renliang issue, or poor man-management from a coach who seems unwilling or unable to break from his preferred starting 11.
8. Song Boxuan – Left midfield – Appearances (sub): 13(4) – Goals: 3 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 4 – Reds: 1
Wilson: 6/10. Looked good going forward, he often found himself being played further back. Quite a dangerous player with the potential to be a regular if he really buckles down. However there are doubts over his attitude, appears to think he is better than he is and has protested being substituted on more than one occasion. A decent goal tally this season also, potential is there.
Crooks: 6/10. Along with Feng, the only other natural winger in the squad. Of course, neither are regular starters in the regular 4-3-3 formation deployed by Sergio Batista. Song remains inconsistent at times, but put in some good performances over the season and showed composure in his finishing. May have more of a role to play next year.
9. Mattieu Mansett – Striker – Appearances (sub): 6(3) – Goals: 1 – Assists: 0 – Yellows: 0 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 1/10. An absolute waste of the valuable foreign player slot. Mansett simply did not have the quality to make any impact at CSL level, his solitary goal the result of luck more than endeavour. Surely Shenhua have someone at youth level who could have done better? Tragic.
Crooks: 1/10. One of the least talented professionals I’ve ever seen play. And I used to have a season ticket at fourth-tier level in England — ironically a level at which Manset couldn’t cut it on loan prior to his Shanghai misadventures. Even his goal was sh*t.
10. Jiang Kun – Midfielder – – Appearances (sub): 17(5) – Goals: 0 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 1
Wilson: 2/10 – It’s a mystery to this correspondent as to how Jiang Kun got so much playing time. At 34 years of age, he’s clearly well past his best, and although he has an eye for a good pass now and again, his legs have gone. Despite this being obvious to everyone, he played in the majority of Shenhua’s games. All fans will be hoping he either swiftly retires or moves elsewhere next season. Rumoured to be a smoker – and he always looks out of puff at the end of games.
Crooks: 3/10. You know what you’re getting with Jiang Kun — fifteen decent minutes until his wind has gone, then another 45 or so of running around slowly and not quite near enough to the ball, followed by the customary substitution. If you could make hockey-style rolling subs for a dead ball taker, Jiang Kun would still have a role to play. In a 90 minute match, he quite simply doesn’t, and is keeping young talent out of the side. I did bump up his mark just for playing the false 9 role to a tee in the home win over Beijing, though.
11. Didier Drogba – Striker – Appearances (sub): 10(1) – Goals: 8 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7.5/10. A phenomenal player, moving to a lower level league clearly did not diminish his appetite for victory. A born winner, he did as well as could be expected in a dysfunctional and lop-sided team. Perhaps lacking a bit of sharpness in his first few games, he nevertheless has not lost his physical or technical edge one bit. However, he had an Anelka-like tendency to wonder all over the pitch towards the end of the season, Shenhua will need his services next year if the club is to have any chance of avoiding another embarrassing season.
Crooks: 9/10. Top-drawer in terms of technique, application, and motivation. While possibly being a bit selfish at times, scored a number of important goals and provides on-pitch leadership. Disregarding the club politics and finances for a second, Drogba is a player Shenhua fans are privileged to be able to see every week.
12. Bai Jiazhun – Leftback – Appearances (sub): 12 – Goals: 1 – Assists: 0 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10. A tenacious, pint-sized fullback, young Bai was brought in on loan from Shanghai East Asia half way through the season. Never afraid to get stuck in, he has all the qualities required to make a great wide defender. What he lacks in height isn’t vital for a fullback, and he more than makes up for it in commitment and tackling ability. Also not afraid to get forward, as his great goal against Liaoning proved. Shenhua really need to make his move permanent without delay.
Crooks: 8/10. Cracking little player — brings the rare qualities of a left foot, a willingness to defend, and ability to run for 90 minutes to a side lacking in all three. One of those young players who visibly learns from month to month, signing Bai full-time would be the first step of a sensible close season plan. So don’t hold your breath for it to happen.
19. Zheng Kaimu – Midfielder – Appearances (sub): 13(1) – Goals: 1 – Assists: 0 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7.5/10. After Feng Renliang in 2010, and Cao Yunding in 2011, Zheng Kaimu is this year’s breakthrough player. A tough and imposing defensive midfielder, at just 20 years old Zheng has a great future ahead of him. Whilst still finding his feet at CSL level, Zheng had numerous standout performances and stamped his authority over many a midfield battle this year. Watch out for this name featuring more and more in the future.
Crooks: 7/10. Very nearly gets an 8/10 — one of the most improved players of the season. Zheng did look something of a liability at times early in the season, with a body check-first-ask-questions-later approach, but has matured greatly over the year into arguably Shenhua’s most important midfielder. His discipline has improved greatly, and there have even been signs of a willingness to cross the halfway line without getting a nosebleed.
20. Wu Xi – Rightback– Appearances (sub): 29 – Goals: 1 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10. A very capable player with a football brain and excellent positioning, its easy to see why Wu Xi is one of only two players in the Shenhua squad (along with Feng) who get a game for China. He guested in midfield early on in the season and even acquitted himself there well, but the right-back slot is all his. Another player Shenhua must hold on to if they are serious about success, Evergrande rumoured to be interested.
Crooks: 7/10. I wonder if we’ll look back at the end of Wu Xi’s career and wonder why he didn’t start featuring in midfield sooner? A good all round player who never lets the side down, you do nevertheless wonder how much game time Wu would get at Evergrande — better served by continuing his development with Shenhua, and not just because we don’t really have anyone to replace him.
23. Qiu Tianyi – Central defence– Appearances (sub): 14(2) – Goals: 1 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10. Qiu is one of the more highly rated youngsters at Hongkou and gained significant playing time this year, compared with last year which he missed most of due to injury. Despite looking good at first, Qiu lost his way somewhat, and for someone well over six feet tall, gets pushed off the ball too easily. Not quite there yet as a player, it remains to be seen if he really has what it takes to become a quality CSL defender.
Crooks: 4/10. Bambi on ice. Looked more composed early on this year, but soon reverted to being as much of a liability on the ground as he is an asset in the air. Slow and easily turned and bullied, Qiu should be a long way from a first choice center back.
25. Mario Božić – Midfielder – Appearances (sub): 10(3) – Goals: 0 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10. One suspects Shenhua didn’t get the best out of Božić, an energetic midfielder who took endless potshots from long range but failed to score with any of them. The fall guy foreigner who had to leave to make way for Drogba, the Bosnian didn’t really offer anything new in Shenhua’s midfield, although he had a few moments where he stuck out.
Crooks: 1/10. Like a terrible caricature of Steven Gerrard, one without the ability. Very good at running around, pointing, shouting and hitting the ball hard. Less good at tackling, ball retention, or getting any kind of direction on those smashed set pieces and shots.
28. Cao Yunding – Midfield– Appearances (sub): 10(13) – Goals: 5 – Assists: 2 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 8/10. It’s criminal that Cao, last year’s breakthrough young player, made fewer starts this year compared with last. Scoring no less than five game-changing goals, each time off the bench, Cao must surely have been frustrated not to be named in the starting XI more often. Another victim of Shenhua’s crazy transfer policy, Cao was benched much of the time after Gio Moreno joined mid-season. If it was understandable someone had to make way for Moreno, it wasn’t understandable that Cao was left playing second fiddle to Jiang Kun. Cao’s creative vision and eye for a killer ball are almost unmatched in Chinese players, his tally of two assists would have been much higher had it not been for the incompetent finishing of others. Still awarded a high mark for changing so many games, next year will be a vital one for the Shanghainese Maradona.
Crooks: 8/10. Scored perhaps as many game-changing goals as Drogba, yet somehow can’t get into the starting 11. Always a joy to watch for his confidence and daring even when things aren’t going his way, Cao should be a critical player next season for Shenhua — a player this talented should walk into any starting line up in the CSL.
29. Joel Griffiths – Striker/ right winger– Appearances (sub): 15(3) – Goals: 6 – Assists: 1 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6.5/10. Griffiths’ season was badly hampered by a knee injury that kept him out for three months and Shenhua missed him as the only foreign player with CSL experience. After arriving to great fanfare from Beijing, Griffiths got off to a good start, but became yet another victim of Zhu Jun’s transfer market attacker fetish and spent too much time playing out wide, where Shenhua already had a capable player in the shape of Feng Renliang. Lacked sharpness after coming back from his injury, and having now seemingly already left the club, his attitude to leaving Beijing to be part of Shenhua’s most bizarre campaign ever may be one of regret.
Crooks: 5/10. Ah, Joel. If only your skills matched your work rate. Still scored a decent number of goals despite injury and tactical shunts out to the wing, but gives the impression of being the dictionary-definition “nearly man” — how workrate and intelligence get Joel into dangerous situations, and his ball-magnet shins and 50p-piece boots get him back out of them again.
37. Giovanni Moreno – Midfield – Appearances (sub): 14 – Goals: 2 – Assists: 4 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10. Clearly a very talented box-to-box midfielder. Moreno made a great impact in his first few games after joining in the summer, turning the team around with his dribbling, running and creative passing, before succumbing to the typical “I’m too good” CSL foreign player syndrome and showboating too much. Quite an infuriating player at times, all too often elects to over-elaborate when a simple ball is the better option. He also needs to spend way less time rolling around on the ground any time he’s clipped or brought down. Still, a very high quality midfielder who could easily play in the big European leagues, could be a vital player for Shenhua next season if he stays.
Crooks: 6/10. The anti-Griffiths — no questions about the ability, but several about the application. The jury remains out on Gio — he turned the side around with his ability to keep and use the ball, before having a few games where he couldn’t find a blue shirt even on the rare occasions he tried. Looked to be waking up again at the end of the season, and I’d personally like to see him stay and really take the midfield by the scruff of the neck on a more consistent basis.
39. Nicolas Anelka: Forward – Appearances (sub): 22 – Goals: 3 – Assists: 6 – Yellows: 4 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10. At least half of you reading this will have scrolled straight down to the bottom to find out how rated him. Was Anelka worth the money? Of course not. Strictly looking at the return on investment, the facts don’t lie, Shenhua were poor this year and Anelka did not make anywhere near the difference he could have had. However, there are mitigating circumstances. Shenhua must shoulder at least some of the responsibility for his problems, they failed to provide an even slightly normal footballing environment, and he was clearly messed around over his brief stint as player-coach. On the pitch, his personality and style was clearly not suited to playing in a struggling team, and he has never been a prolific scorer. However, what cannot be ignored is his unselfishness on the pitch when it comes to creating chances. This partly explains his very poor return of only 3 goals (none at Hongkou!), but his six assists, put him at joint 4th in the overall CSL assists table. But his lack of determination on the pitch wound up many supporters, and the fact remains is that you can’t pick up a paycheck the size of his and not be expected to make a far bigger difference that what he did. Re-energized by Drogba, he did show the fans what he is capable of during some later season games, but it was far too late by then. A rather large question mark hangs over his future at Shenhua, believes he will not be around next season.
Crooks: 2/10. 300k USD per week gets you… an equivalent strikerate to Mathieu flipping Manset. A disgrace to the captain’s armband with his lack of on-field commitment, Anelka remains the CSL’s biggest flop of 2012 and quite possibly all time. And he probably doesn’t even care — Anelka infuriatingly seems to exist in a bubble with only a tenuous grasp on what’s happening around him, as evidenced by a couple of occasions on which possession has been hap-hazardly waved away for the opposition to score. And to refute the “not suited to lower-level sides” point, some of Anelka’s best football and PR comes from his spells with a pre-riches Man City and Bolton in England — periods in which he also didn’t consider himself above running… Anelka is a financial, tactical and political albatross around Shenhua’s neck, and is a big factor in this correspondents lack of optimism for 2013.