Anticipation for the 2013 China Super League season is high once again and a side in the shadow of the dominant Guangzhou Evergrande may be ready to make the big step into the Asia Champions League picture. Guangzhou R&F, finished the 2012 CSL seventh following promotion in 2011 and hopes are high for 2013 following the impressive signing of English Premier League striker Yakubu.
Impressive domestic signings Li Jianhua, Jiang Ning, Wu Pingfeng, Li Yan, Feng Zhuoyi and the hugely experienced Zhang Yaokun have been added to the ranks in the close season giving Guangzhou R&F a highly impressive unit for the coming season.
A player in the thick of all this is 24 year old Australian Rostyn Griffiths, a reliable defensive midfielder signed from A-League side Central Coast Mariners at the turn of 2012. Griffiths started out in the youth ranks of Blackburn Rovers with loan spells in the lower leagues before spells with Adelaide United, North Queensland Fury and Mariners.
An Australian under 17 international, Griffiths is setting his sights on R&F emulating the success of city rivals Evergrande and a spot in the Australian national side and joins Wild East Football at a time when hopes are high for another impressive season for the Canton side.
Wild East Football: Rostyn, thanks for giving your time to Wild East Football, you have been on quite the journey to end up with Guangzhou R&F! How would you describe your career so far?
Rostyn Griffiths: I started my footballing education in England and really loved it but much like China things can change really fast. I realized I needed to move on to start getting some professional games; my time with Central Coast Mariners was where I really got to establish a name for myself. If I had to sum up my career so far I would say every season I’ve been striving for better football and better clubs and so far it’s happened.
: After nearly a year in Guangzhou you must be pretty settled. How’s your Chinese?
Griffiths: Normally I can pick up some of the language in most countries I have been to in the past but with Chinese I am really struggling. It probably doesn’t help that the coaches are from Brazil so I understand more Portuguese than Chinese!
: Come to China to learn Portuguese then everyone! Back to your career though, turning out for Australia U-17 must have been big, do you think you will get a call up to the national side one day?
Griffiths: I got a call up to the full national team in December to go in to camp in Sydney and then go to a tournament in Hong Kong but unfortunately it was my off season so I wasn’t 100% fit and got injured meaning I missed out on some game time again which really upset me. This season my biggest goal is to earn another call up and actually get an international game.
: Do you think playing in China has any negative effect on a potential call up?
Griffiths: Unfortunately, it’s certainly not the national team manager’s first choice league for potential players. For footballers from Australia, Asia has a massive appeal in that it’s close to home and financially rewarding. Now there are a few more Aussies playing in China two of which have been regulars in recent national team squads which hopefully for me means the league will be more watched by the national team scouts.
: R&F start the season at home to Liaoning Whowin, an easy tie on paper, are R&F gunning for the title or ACL spots?
Griffiths: As a team we haven’t really discussed what our goals are for the season but I think deep down everyone was disappointed not to have made the top three spots in 2012. My target for our team in 2013 and I’m sure everyone else’s would be to finish in the top three.
: Your Canton neighbors Guangzhou Evergrande are a rather good side aren’t they, the first 2013 derby is on April 26th, how can you describe the atmosphere for that?
Griffiths: Last season my two favorite games were Beijing Guoan away and Evergrande in their stadium. The atmosphere at both games rivalled Europe and the tempo of the games also felt a little quicker than the others. Obviously derbies are always exciting to play in so to be able to play a part in both was great and fortunately for us we managed to win both of them.
: For all Evergrande’s stars, Yakubu was a great catch for R&F, what has he done for the side?
Griffiths: Yakubu came at a good time for us last season we really needed a focal point and his sheer size and presence managed to bring that for us. He also scored some important goals so keeping him fresh and fit this season is important. Mainly I was happy he came so I had somebody to speak English with!
: Which Chinese players should we look at for at the Yuexiushan Stadium this season?
Griffiths: Zhang Yuan, he was with us last season always a danger in the final third and Jiang Ning (signed from Evergrande) he seems entertaining going forward. Possibly the best signing is the new defender Zhang Yaokun (from the disbanded Dalian Shide) he seems solid and will provide us with a lot defensively. I am also a big fan of Davi who I’m sure most fans of the CSL are already aware is a huge talent.
: How can you describe the support for R&F?
Griffiths: In one word, ‘growing’. We were unfortunate to have to change stadiums midway through last season. When we moved out to the other stadium (Guangzhou University Stadium) it was bad timing because we just started to gain more and more numbers. Then we played at the newer stadium which was a great pitch but the stadium was too large for the amount of people which didn’t make for a great atmosphere. Hopefully this season back at the old stadium (Yuexiushan Stadium) we can get the numbers going again.
: Thanks for your time Rostyn, Wild East Football is read by a lot of Chinese fans as well as foreigners following Chinese football, any messages for them?
Griffiths: Please come out and support the games in which ever city you live, football is nothing without the fans!