The 2013 Chinese Super League season kicks off tomorrow night. As we lead up to the start of the new season, we’ll preview a number of the sides, this time it’s the newly promoted Shanghainese club.
The manager: Though the manager who led the club into the CSL, Jiang Bingyao, was let go shortly after his achievement, his replacement, Gao Hongbo, is arguably China’s top manager. Gao’s found success everywhere he goes, winning t he title in Changchun, invigorating the Chinese national team, and leading Guizhou to the Asian Champion’s League. Gao and Xu Genbao, the club’s owner, have a very close relationship that dates to 1992, when Xu brought Gao into the national team. The relationship developed over the years and Gao would play under Xu for Guangzhou Songri, where he’d also get his first managerial gig. Later on, he’d continue apprenticing under Xu as the assistant manager of Inter Shanghai in 2001. The two have a father-son relationship that is sure to bring good things to East Asia.
The history: Formed by Xu Genbao, a widely respected former Chinese international who as a manager won league titles with two different teams (Shanghai Shenhua and Dalian Shide) in the 1990s. The club started life in China League Two eight years ago with a team drawn almost entirely out of Xu’s youth academy of Chongming Island and they have used that generation of players to climb up the divisions. Several of the Chinese players who’ll be running out for East Asia in the opening game of the 2013 CSL made their debuts in the team’s early years down in the basement of Chinese football.
The team: Structured within a counter-attacking 4-3-2-1 formation, East Asia rely on the pace of its young team to unlock opposing defences. That said, they can be flimsy on occasions and when they lose their nerve, resort to some very frustrating gamesmanship and diving.
The stadium: The Shanghai Stadium seats 80,000 people and the team attracts 10% of that capacity but fans make a lot of noise and its a fun day out. Tickets should be around RMB 40-70. You’ll see touts with 500 meters of the stadium selling at face value or around it.
The changes: Firstly, Jiang, who spearheaded the promotion drive from CL1, is gone, but Xu’s selection of Gao to replace him is a significant imrpovement. Secondly, Bai Jiajun was sold to Shanghai Shenhua- a curious decision given that he is a highly effective left-back and would be useful at the CSL level. Captain Wang Shenchao will presumably move across from centreback to fill the gap although the team’s reduction of their overall squad depth still is head scratching.
The foreigners: The retention of centerback Ransford Addo is great given the defender’s poise and experience in Chinese football. Joining him in the middle of the defense is thirty-four year old Iban Cuadrado, who a year ago was playing in the Spanish third division. A younger player with a year or two in the CSL would have been preferable but his experience will be important on and off the pitch. Up front, Chris Dickson will lead the line for East Asia and has looked strong in preseason games.
The star: Wu Lei is critical to everything East Asia do thanks to his excellent technique, outstanding passing and jinking runs. Does like a dive and can be very diva-ish on occasions though. Needs to find some maturity this year but if he does, expect the 5″7 play maker to be in the national team by the end of the season.
The youngster: As most of the club comes through Xu’s academy, most of the side is youngsters, any one of them likely to shine in the new season.
The x factor: Lv Wenjun compliments Wu by having similar pace and attacking instincts but is also a willing runner and has solid understanding of space and when to make a run off the ball. When both attacking midfielders are on the same page, its wonderful.
The prediction: A midtable finish is a decent posibility if East Asia get the right breaks but this ultimately is a team who will live and die by its youngsters so the dressing room could collapse if they go on a long run of defeats. The safest odds would be somewhere between 7th-10th.