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Pub Talk: Shenhua‘s skeletons out on tombsweeping holiday

The boys hit the pub early to take advantage of China’s tomb-sweeping public holiday. There’s news discussed which many would prefer buried, Shenhua’s continuing soap opera and refusal to pay the league their fine for the 2003 disgrace, as Ultra gives the low-down on how the latest tomfoolery has impacted performance. Perversely well it would seem. The ACL’s latest instalment is digested – some good results for Chinese teams discussed. Huang Bowen again appears in the pub, as it were – a hot debate indeed. There’s also over-achievement and under-achievement talked about this week, and a short debate about another oddity, weekend working. That’s what’s going down this week – sit down and enjoy the banter…

B: Have you seen the news about Shenhua?  They’ve extended the deadline for paying the fine. It’s a total cop-out, but you gotta think Shenhua will pay it this time

S: Yeah, a five-day extension, it would appear.

B: They aren’t even calling it an extension…supposedly its because that was what the rules stated and so they couldn’t make an arbitrary deadline of yesterday.

S: The usual messing around. Shanghai papers are saying its the beginning of the end for the dispute, the shareholders have come out and said they don’t want Shenhua to be punished further.

B: I think it’s for the better, nobody wants to see Shenhua get another fine or have its registration pulled.

S: Right, and I don’t think anyone seriously expects more punishments to come.

B: Yeah, the 5 days should be enough time for Shenhua to get its house in order and for someone to cough up the money.

S: Yeah man, I think everyone is really sick of this situation. If only all the players didn’t play when their wages were withheld, maybe this bullshit wouldn’t happen.

B: If  I’m understanding this right, this whole thing is basically over real estate? I read that Zhu’s looking to be full owner so that he has land rights over Shenhua’s Kangqiao training base and can turn it into apartments?!

S: I’m kinda sceptical. The training base is in the middle of nowhere.

B: anyway, it’s a mess down there, but looks like things are finally to be straightened out, if only slightly

S: I’m sure it will drag on for a bit yet. How tedious it is.

B: It’s all a big ball of wrong…This Shenhua controversy effected the squad in an odd way in their weekend match against Liaoning, tell us about it.

S: It was pretty amazing to be honest. What with all the shenanigans before the match, when we heard the South Americans wouldn’t be playing, it looked like Shenhua were in for a hard time. 2-0 down at half-time was just about what everyone expected. But the fight and determination seen in the second half was something I don’t think I have really seen at Hongkou before. I think the players were riled up and wanted to show they could play no matter who was on the field.

B: It was certainly an impressive comeback, though I think Ma Lin, the Liaoning manager, really has to be wondering about his side as this is the second straight week they’ve let three points slip away in the final minutes of a match.

S: Right, I’d feel frustrated if I were a Liaoning fan, but the draw was the least Shenhua deserved. Firas Al-Khatib is starting to look like an inspired signing.

B: Yeah, Liaoning fans have plenty of reasons to feel frustrated, but things aren’t quite as bad for them as they are for Dalian Aerbin and Guangzhou R&F.

S: Right, fairly shocking starts to the season from both those sides, and in particular, R&F. What on earth do you think is going on down there?

B: I’m honestly much more shocked by Aerbin, but I think the problem down south is that R&F just don’t seem to have the teamwork they had last season, this year they have expectations heaped upon them, but it’s been too much for them to deal with.

S: Indeed, Aerbin are widely tipped not just by many here at , but also in the media as a whole. I think their forced managerial change may be behind their difficulties.

B: Right, I think that’s the problem up there, too many changes and then having the manager depart has things out of sorts.

S: They did score three against East Asia however and generally looked pretty good in their last game. The problem is of course they let in three as well. I think however that game showed they have the ability and are starting to get it together, but they are still suffering from a lack of confidence.

B: Right. Last season they got off to a slow start and it’s the same thing this year. One side that’s off to a rip-roaring start is Qingdao Jonoon, who have won three straight.

S: I think everyone is stunned by Qingdao’s start, and I imagine they themselves are too. They are making a mockery of those who predicted they will be relegated. Would would who forecast such a thing now?

B: Yeah, I have to admit I was one who thought they’d be relegated, now that is incredibly unlikely, but at the same time, I don’t think this can last much longer, though this weekend they meet the struggling R&F.

S: That’s going to be a test. You aren’t alone in your Qingdao relegation prediction, it still early though, we can’t rule them out just yet. Although if they beat R&F who knows where they will end up.

B: Last year’s sides that went down were in the low 30s, Qingdao has 9 points so far, it’s hard to see them dropping to the bottom of the table, but I also think they’ll slide down the table as the season heats up.

S: That would seem to be a sensible forecast. So what about the big game last weekend. Seems there was an exciting atmosphere.

B: Yeah, we haven’t really touched on it yet. As always there was a huge, passionate crowd at Worker’s Stadium and it was an excellent match. The result, a draw, was fair for both Beijing Guoan and Guangzhou Evergrande and I don’t think either side has much to complain about.

S: Unfortunately my plans to take in the match on TV were disturbed and I had to settle for highlights instead. Looked a good game indeed, as this fixture has been in the past.

B: Yes, much like last season with the back-and-forth battle at Tianhe, this was an example of how good the CSL can be.

S: There was also some shenanigans before the match with Huang Bowen, it’s caused some controversy to say the least.

B: On Thursday, the practice day, a crowd of Guoan fans met the Guangzhou players as they got off the bus to “welcome” Huang, there is no security and the fans can get up close to the players. You would think the foreign players would be used to this, but Lucas Barrios and Elkeson were unhappy and laid hands on Guoan supporters.

S: I saw some pics, I’m not surprised Barrios and Elkeson were upset, I think security should have been in place there wouldn’t you say?

B: I think the club was a little too lax about the situation. The only time there has ever been security for a practice session was when Sanfrecce Hiroshima came, and that looked like a military operation.

S: It pretty much was a military operation. I think its normal for fans to “welcome” rival teams players and staff, but there really should be some security in there to prevent things getting out of hand, which is a real risk as we have seen.

B: I think it would be a good idea, but it’s generally far less reserved, you even have plenty of autograph seekers much of the time. As this was Huang’s first return, it was a bit unique.

S: Yep, it wasn’t a normal occasion. Also of course we had Huang’s stroll around the pitchside to say hello to the Beijing fans. Predictably that didn’t end well. I just can’t understand why anyone thinks it’s a good idea for players to do this. It’s simply not necessary.

B: Right, as you said, it’s not necessary. I’m really conflicted about my feelings. After the reception on Thursday, Huang had to know what was coming, I think he did it as a “self-criticism” and he was ready to take the “punishment” from Guoan fans. A couple of cups of Coke is far better than the pig’s head that Luis Figo received on return to the Nou Camp. I want to think Huang’s emotions were heartfelt and it wasn’t him doing it to make himself look good, his apology on Beijing television after the match tends to make it seem so. But why did he wait until AFTER the match to apologize? This is something I wonder about…

S: Yeah obviously it would have been better to apologise beforehand. But I’m not convinced it would have made an awful lot of difference. We had some good debate on the site itself this week (and thanks guys who joined in that discussion). Personally, I think its true that this kind of thing happens often with footballers, perhaps we shouldn’t get so upset about it… but we are fans and fans care a great deal about these things. The bottom line is Huang said he was going to come back to Beijing, and he went elsewhere. He made his bed and now he has to sleep in it. I’m afraid that, much as I can see both sides to it, I don’t have much sympathy for Huang, he simply has to take it on the chin.

B: Right, players come and go, generally I have no issue with that. But I’d watched Huang at Guoan since 2004, when he made that promise that he repeated multiple times and that nobody forced him to make, I took him at his word. When he decided to come back, he only had one club in mind and that was Evergrande, a man’s only as good as his word.

S: Well indeed. So how about the ACL this week? Any ties excited you this round?

B: Yep, some excellent results for Chinese teams.

S: Indeed so, a great win in particular for Sainty, that surprised me, 2-0 over Buriram, a team that gave Evergrande a hard time last year.

B: Honestly this is the first I’ve seen them play this year, but from the looks of it, they were really missing their two Ghanians who left at the end of last year, in particular Frank Acheampong, who tore apart Guangzhou last year.

S: I don’t know much of them to be honest. But Sainty have made a great recovery after getting humped by Seoul in the first round.

B: Definitely, now sitting second in the group and with a good shot to go through.

S: And your lot pulled off a great result in Uzebekistan.

B: Yes, it could have been even better if they were playing on something that could suitably be called a football pitch. I was worried going into this match, but Guoan was really able to neutralize Bunyodkor’s height advantage. It has me full of confidence for the return leg at Gongti a week from now.

S: You didn’t fancy a trip to Bunyodkor? I heard they have some great chuan there.

B: I would have liked to make the trip, not sure when else I could go.

S: It would be a great chance to visit an interesting country.

B: Not sure when else I’d end up in Tashkent, but familial obligations (and work) kept me in the capital. Well, I brought up Guoan’s face-off next week against Bunyodkor, but before that they have a challenging match this Friday night, travelling to Nanjing. I hope the flight there won’t be more than the 18 hours it took to get to Tashkent.

S: I think the bullet train offers a trip to Nanjing in not much over 4 hours these days, does the squad actually fly?

B: Well, they have to get back to China first. I would think they’ll find a way to Nanjing, most likely through Shanghai.

S: Before we move on, what about tonight’s ACL games, any thoughts?

B: Well, I think it’s interesting that Lippi talks about Guoan’s sportsmanship yet rejects moving up Friday’s match to allow the team to fly direct to Tashkent, then muscles Guizhou to change the date of their match by two months.

S: Is this more Guoan – Evergrande bickering? We need to get Biffo back in here!

B: Anyways,  Guangzhou indeed had no trouble with the Thai champions, Muangthong United.

S: That was an impressive victory, 4-0 at that level is very very respectable. Guizhou were less lucky  in Australia, going down with a goal just ten minutes from time 2-1, Central Coast.

B: Even if they came away with at least a point, it would not be enough. Both teams were in real need of the points.

S: Right, well that’s enough ACL. What about this weekend’s games in the CSL?

B: We’ve already touched on a number of them, I think all that’s left is the little matter of a bit of a rivalry match between Shenhua and Hangzhou.

S: Yeah, Shenhua are taking at least 8 buses of fans according to the papers. That’s quite a lot considering this derby has been scheduled for a working weekend. It’s bad enough making everyone work on weekends without scheduling big games at the same time.

B: Ah yes, there are a number of matches on Sunday, which is a work day here, due to the holiday. The same reason pub talk’s coming to you a day ahead of time.

S: Right. I think these working weekends are just stupid. Why not just cancel other holidays to balance things up. Say if Qingming Jie falls on a Wednesday, its fine to take off the Thursday and Friday as well for a long weekend, but that’s pointless if you end up having to work a weekend day instead.

B: And now we’re back to the topic of the Chinese government, haha, right back to where we started (well, sort of, considering CFA’s part of the government). On that note, I think we should close down the pub, it’s a holiday, gotta get outside and enjoy it!

S: That’s a good call. Happy holidays to one and all!

B: Cheers mate!

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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