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Pub Talk: The large (war) elephant in the room

Once again the pub is a northern affair, as Chris Atkins joins BCheng in the pub. On the menu, regrettably, is talk of the Chinese national team and the biggest disgrace in its history, as well as some transfer news and finally the guys have actual footie matches to discuss with a packed schedule starting tonight as Shanghai Shenhua hosts Dalian Aerbin.

BCheng: Our beloved shanghai ultra is once again on the road so this week we welcome Chris Atkins back to the pub. Chris, we have a lot to talk about with the CSL starting up again tonight, a lot of transfer talk, and I think the national team may have played some matches since we were in the pub last.

Chris Atkins: Hi B, I think they might have. However, I have long since erased that rabble from my memory. As you say, though, the media is beginning to fill up with the usual transfer speculation, and we may have some actual domestic football to comment on next week.

B: So where do you want to start? I kinda think we can’t ignore the large elephant in the room.

C: It’s kind of hard to. This elephant is the biggest I can remember, and Chinese football has dealt with a few over the years. That 2-0 defeat to Netherlands. A joke.

B: Yeah, they really disgraced themselves on their return to Beijing, didn’t they? However, I was thinking more of the “War Elephants” elephant….

By the way, what a great nickname for a national team.

C: It is indeed, and the way Thailand’s Under-23 squad savaged the Chinese national team 5-1 last week, they may have well been riding war elephants. I think, as we discussed when we all met up, for all the issues off the pitch, that result must be the responsibility of the players primarily.

B: I do think certain players need to be called out for their horrible performances in that match. It isn’t all the fault of the manager, but as I fiercely argued in my editorial this week, Camacho’s gotta go. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the CFA is going to fire him.

C: They’ve put themselves in a difficult situation given that they would need to pay him €7 million to see him leave. I agree he should resign, or be fired, having lost the team completely it seems. However, for all his mistakes, the selection decisions cannot account for the result, or some of the poor behaviour that has since emerged.

B: I’ve been saying it for awhile, more than a manager, the Chinese national team needs a psychologist. It honestly looked like certain players had absolutely no interest in being on the pitch and I can believe the stories they threw the match to get Camacho fired. That being the case, you have to question their mentality, but maybe they think Chinese football’s already such a joke.

It doesn’t seem they’re going to get what they wanted, so there will need to be peaceful co-existance under Camacho for the rest of the year.

 C: They need to find some way of working with him. However, I agree entirely. It’s a mental block now. Neither of us are saying that these players are world beaters, but they are not as bad as they consistently suggest with the national side. They lack belief in their abilities, seem to have treated this camp as some kind of holiday, and seem to have no sense of the value of playing for their country. Or, at least, have temporarily lost that.

 B: But that’s been the case from day one of Camacho’s time as manager. That’s why it is so frustrating that they are letting costs influence this decision. In the 15 years I’ve supported China, Camacho is hands down, by a mile, the worst manager China has had, he’s been in charge for some of the worst losses. When you take a very successful, young domestic manager and replace him with this, I think the players are at a complete loss.

C: More than Camacho, who everyone agrees needs to be moved on, I hope there is a complete rethink. We’ve said it so many times, but footballing standards here will always have a ceiling unless they get more playing, and better coaching. I hope the CFA bureaucrats were watching Japan outplay Italy this week (although they clearly weren’t). The country across the water have got it right in terms of youth programmes, and China must learn from what they have done.

B: I think we saw under Gao Hongbo what a good manager can do for China, he had the team performing well for the most part. There’s talent there and coming through the ranks. One reason why I see firing Camacho now as a must is that this way, going into the East Asia Cup and facing three sides that qualified for the World Cup, China has an excuse to why they will perform so badly.

As for youth programs, China’s looked towards Japan, even bringing in Tom Byer, the guy who started the youth push in Japan. But I fear until there are serious changes in China’s education system, we’ll never see a full scale youth program.

C: They have, but I only hope they are using his knowledge effectively. Too many times you see these opportunities wasted, as they just use it as a chance to say they’re doing something. The East Asia Cup has to be used with 2015 in mind, and that means that time is up for the veterans—Sun Xiang and Zheng Zhi. The incoming players disappointed this month, but hopefully the atmosphere can be improved with a competition at stake.

B: I think that’s about all I can take of national team talk, unless you have something to add?

C: No. I think everyone will be more than aware of the situation by now. Where shall we head next? The bloody transfer window?

B: Sure, though so far there hasn’t been quite as many rumors as I’d have thought.

C: Not sure if there’ll be a “big name” this summer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Big news so far is Guoan signing the Hong Kong international full-back and Peter Utaka (almost certainly), Barrios likely leaving Evergrande and half the league looking for new forwards.

Although, we shouldn’t forget East Asia’s two Australian striking recruits.

B: You are a little more confident about Utaka joining Guoan than I am. I’m not overly excited about Lee Chi Ho’s joining the club, either. Barrios leaving Evergrande is something we’ve speculated about since basically the end of the last transfer window. East Asia’s appeared to have strengthened their side, those are two interesting, young signings.

There is a lot of interest in Zheng Long, he looks to be the biggest prize of this transfer window.

C: Yeah. It seems that with Yu Hanchao and Yang Xu already departed, Zheng Long is the final member of the transfer market trio waiting to be snapped up. Those three were linked with moves every window over the past couple of years

B: I’m not sure we’ll see Zheng move, but this is an opportunity for a team like Guoan as some of the big spenders won’t be participating in this window.

C: It sure is, although I bet Qingdao will be asking for a hefty price mid-season.

B: Indeed. So before we get to actual footie, I’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the Asian Champions League draw yesterday, with Guangzhou Evergrande geting Lekhwiya in the quarterfinals. Have anything you’d like to say about Lekhwiya?

C: I don’t know too much about them, to be honest. They came second in Qatar last year, so they can’t be too bad, and Evergrande will have to deal with a trip to the Middle East. Chinese clubs don’t always cope well with that.

B: Yeah, not sure what to think about them. I think Evergrande did well to get them in the draw, but a Middle Eastern trip has long been a nightmare for Chinese sides.

C: If they are serious about winning the ACL, they need to prove themselves. It’s a good test, but could have been worse. I think they have a real chance of winning this year, but need to justify their ambitions when the pressure is on.

B: Speaking of when the pressure is on, this weekend Evergrande will travel to Qingdao. While I don’t really think the seasiders can beat the champions, Tiantai is never an easy place to play.

C: Indeed, and they play a very limited game that makes them hard to beat. However, I think Evergrande will still expect to win. The pressure is on Shandong over the next few weeks.

B: Right, midweek at Gongti, hosting Guizhou, then having to travel to Aerbin. It’s going to be the hardest run of matches they have this year, I would be very surprised if they could get anything more than 6 points out of these matches.

Notice how I ignore Jiangsu, this weekend, I can’t see Sainty getting a result in Jinan, they just aren’t a good enough side.

C: That’s a fair assumption. Hopefully they get enough points to keep it interesting, but it will be tough. How do you feel Sven will get on this weekend? Debuts against Shenxin at the Yuexiushan.

B: Anything less than three points would be a disappointment. I think Sven’s going to be able to move R&F up the table a little bit, but not much. Speaking of, a quick look at the table is pretty depressing. The title race is down to two sides, the ACL race is really only between 2-3 sides, and battle to stay up is between 3 sides. Are we in for a very boring second half of the season? 

C: The CSL is never boring, but I think we might be. There are a lot of “mid table” sides. The only hope is that 2-3 of them can challenge for ACL places, or the teams at the bottom can improve. 

B: I think the relegation picture is very clear, can’t see Changchun or Wuhan getting to a point where Shenxin or R&F are involved. 

C: No, agreed. Tianjin look stranded also. Might as well write the season off now then, eh?

B: Pretty much! Though they appear to be bringing in some new players.

C: We’ll have to see how all the new boys work out. Still more than half the season to go, and Qingdao showed last year what is possible

B: Yeah, well, more than half the season to go and I’m already depressed, at least someone’s looking on the bright side.

C: That’s what supporting Guoan can do for you it seems. Anything else we need to cover before closing time?

B: I think that’s it, let’s down these pints and look forward to Shenhua’s loss tonight.

C: Cheers to that!

B: Cheers!

Brandon Chemers aka B. Cheng aka A Modern Lei Feng – is a name which may be familiar to many in the Chinese blogosphere. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief for Wild East Football and is one of the lonely souls writing about Chinese football in English for the last 10 years. Chemers' credentials are second to none – his former blog focused not only on the fortunes of his beloved Beijing Guoan FC, but a multitude of other aspects of Beijing life. He’s deservedly built a reputation in the Chinese blogosphere as an insightful observer of not only Chinese football, but also the wider picture of life in modern China and its many layers. For WEF, beyond writing about Guoan, he often focuses on fan culture and the business of Chinese football.

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