Now that the Chinese Super League is taking a short break while the national team play, it is a good time to reflect on the opening of the season. One team that has surprised many, unfortunately for the wrong reasons, is Guangzhou R&F.
Having lost their opening two games, both by two goal margins, it seems that all is not well both on and off the pitch. Last season R&F started brightly and had been in contention for an ACL spot until a forced move to Guangzhou’s University Island coincided with a drop in form. During the winter break R&F stocked up on new players and before the season began a sense of optimism abounded around Yuexiushan. Owner Zhang Li stated before the season started that the clubs aim was to hopefully break into the top three. So far there has not been much evidence to say that these ambitions are going to be realised any time soon.
On the pitch, R&F fans may argue that they were unlucky in their first game against Liaoning. They hit the post, had a goal disallowed and a decent penalty appeal waved away. Against Hangzhou however, they seemed unorganised and lacked creativity in the final third. New captain Yakubu was given a thumbs down by some Guangzhou newspapers for scolding rather than leading the team. It was also highlighted that R&F generally do not seem as physically fit as the teams they are playing. This has been blamed on a poor preseason schedule. Media reviews, which often are in line with club opinions, have generally been quite negative of Farias, his preparation, his team selection and choice of tactics.
One thing which is puzzling the Guangzhou media is who exactly is in control of R&F’s recruitment? During the winter, R&F bought four players from crosstown neighbours Guangzhou Evergrande. Of the four players, Jiang Ning has appeared as a substitute twice, the others; Li Jianhua, Wu Pingfeng and Li Yan have yet to make an appearance. Zhang Yaokun, a competent central defender brought in from now defunct Dalian Shide has been played out of position in both games. In one game he was given a starting place at left back, only to be replaced at half-time with an actual left back and moved to the equally alien position of defensive midfield, a position he took up in the first game.
In interviews, the R&F hierarchy are adamant that it is Farias who has the final say on transfers and are equally puzzled by his selections. One paper reported that Farias had asked to sell two foreign players in order to get defensive replacements but upper management refused the request. R&F have had their fair share of bad luck off the pitch too. Two key players, Tang Miao and Xu Bo left to join the national team for much of the winter break and returned to R&F duties a couple of weeks before preseason training. Injuries have plagued the team as well. Foreign player Jumar has been out injured since last season and just before the Hangzhou game starting left back Liu Chen picked up an injury and was pulled out of the team.
Rather embarrassingly, R&F at times have also been their own worst enemy. Just before the Hangzhou game it emerged that Australian import Royston Griffiths had improper documentation and was therefore unable to play. The incomplete documentation was something that was completely overlooked before the first game against Liaoning. This was described in the press as ‘amateurish’.
R&F boss Farias, in his defence, has said that he has had little choice in the team selection, highlighting a lack of defensive players. Fans though are skeptical and think that he is being stubborn in his choices and is sending a message to the club’s owners that he needs more say in player recruitment. If you look at a few statistics, R&F have not played too badly.
Admittedly, this is only after two games so stats cannot be taken too seriously but R&F are currently third in the league in average amount of possession and have the second highest shot count. However, for those positive stats, two other statistics outweigh them, they have conceded more than any other team in the league and they have made the second lowest amount of tackles. Surely if you put these two things together you can form a decent hypothesis to explain R&F’s current plight.
Although it is far too early to write off R&F’s season and mark them as relegation contenders, there do seem to be problems at the club. Farias does deserve a chance to turn things around and he can point to many factors beyond his control as to why the club are in the position they are. However, the fact remains that the last time they won in the league was six games ago at home to Guizhou in September 2012 and you have to go further back to August 2012 for their last away win. Just how many games will Zhang Li allow Farias to lose? Crisis may be the wrong word for the current situation, but if R&F’s poor form and leaky defence continues it may start to be heard echoing around Yuexiushan.