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Pub Talk: Two hot to trot in Shanghai

This week Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra escape the summer weather by sneaking off to the pub. The departures of two Shanghai clubs’ managers in the past week is on the agenda and the decisions called into question. Other topics include the CFA’s odd definition of violent play, and its ignoring of play-actors. The CFA cup is reviewed, a shocking lack of shocks it seems. Shenhua’s foot-shooting hobby crops up again, as does the transfer window – players too big to climb through it it seems. Plus the latest national team squad is evaluated. That’s what’s in the Pub today, pull up a stool and turn off your mobile…

Shanghai Ultra: Ok B, back in the pub once again, and I have to say it’s good to get out of the stifling heat. Hows it going?

Bcheng: Not bad, up here we’ve had so much rain it hasn’t even been that hot.

S: The weather’s a diverse beast in China it seems. But seems like it made the hotseats at two Shanghai clubs just a little too hot for their occupants last week.

B: Yeah, the departure of Zhu Jiong really surprised me, I think its pretty unfortunate Shenxin decided to go in that direction.

S: I have to agree wholeheartedly. I don’t think he’s an amazing coach or anything like that, but I don’t think Shenxin had any grounds to fire him at all. He did not have an awful lot of resources at his disposal, and Shenxin aren’t doing too badly as far as I can see.

B: I think that it’s too hard to tell what kind of coach he is because he’s never had much to work with. I think they’ve “put up” with him and the lack of results for this long, it just doesn’t make sense to dump him. Last year they were originally relegated and other than upgrading their foreigners, they didn’t put much more money into the squad in the offseason.

S: Yeah he is unproven either way, you’re right, Shenxin didn’t do much domestically except sign Yu Tao from Shenhua, and useful pickup though he was for them I don’t think he was of high enough calibre to shift Shenxin up a gear. I don’t really see how anyone else could do much better than Zhu. I don’t like this modern trend of being so quick to sack managers. In China it seems to be bad for it. As we saw across the Huangpu with Batista at Shenhua, which, if not an outright firing, seemed to be engineered by the club – how does that departure look from Beijing?

B: It’s just humorous, more of the same down at Shenhua it seems. Just when they look like they start to have some momentum, they somehow shoot themselves in the foot.

S: Yeah, it must look pretty ridiculous from the outside, I’d be chuckling if I was a fan of another team. All I want to know is, how can whoever is responsible for not paying the manager claim to have the team’s best interests at heart?

B: It’s shocking. Batista did a pretty good job so far this season, I can’t understand what is going on down there, it really is chaotic.

S: It looks no more clearer from here either. Batista seemed to be a bit laid back last year. But he proved himself in the first half of this season. Shenhua really have to watch out, Shen Xiangfu for some reason doesn’t fill me with much optimism.

B: Shen’s a decent coach, a lot of experience, but he’ll need to keep what is surely a volatile situation under wraps.

S: He is experienced, but he’s got a tough job on his hands, not made any easier by the never-ending weird freakshow performed by the club’s ownership.

B: His first match didn’t exactly go the way you would have liked…

S: It was a poor performance against Tianjin, and Shenhua were a bit fortunate to take away a point. But the same amount of effort was there in the second half at least, even if as soon as they scored, they played for the draw. I’m still in awe of the CFA’s stupidity for suspending Wang Shouting for 5 matches for pulling Malky McKay off the pitch against Changchun the other week. Did you hear about that?

B: A little, but please explain to those who haven’t.

S: Well against Changchun, Aussie defender Matt McKay bumped into Cao Yunding during a midfield challenge in the latter stages. He went down clutching his chest, despite the reply suggesting no contact was made with that part of his body. So Wang Shouting dragged him off the pitch a couple of yards so he could get treatment and the game could continue. Not only was he wrongfully sent off in my opinion, he was then banned for 5 games for “violent conduct”. The clincher is, on wiebo there is footage of an exact same incident in 2008 when a Shandong player pulls a Shenhua player off the pitch. But at that time he was not even booked.

B: The recent upping of punishments is starting to be a very frustrating issue. You don’t really pay attention to it until one of your players receives a multi-match ban.

S: That’s a good point. I can see why the CFA doesn’t want players just pulling people randomly off the pitch. But what annoys me is that Matt McKay was clearly play acting to waste time. And yet he gets off scot free for what I believe is a far worse crime.

B: I would tend to agree with you. It seems like we’ve touched on this subject a lot of times, but as tends to be the case in China, the crackdown is misplaced.

S: It does crop up from time to time. At least some consistency in the application of rules and punishments would be good. But I don’t see the point in a 5 game punishment for dragging someone off the pitch. It’s a booking at most, never mind a red card or 5 match ban. Play acting is the scourge of football. You must have heard it said yourself, as an American, those who aren’t into the same kind of football we are often make very scornful comments about guys lying around on the ground when they were barely touched.

B: Yes, it is way too prevalent in the CSL.

S: Indeed. So, what else is going on this week that’s caught your eye?

B: Well, I guess it’s no surprise Shandong’s struggles have continued, giving Guangzhou Evergrande an even more significant lead and making the ACL race considerably more interesting.

S: Yeah that is probably just as well since, as has been discussed in the pub a lot recently, the title race is pretty much over. A defeat to your lot then a draw away to Aerbin. I suppose they just couldn’t keep up their great form.

B: I think there was also a draw against Guizhou in between.

S: Actually speaking of that side I’m a little surprised Guizhou are now in 3rd.

B: Why is that?

S: I could be wrong but I can’t remember them winning a lot recently.

B: They’ve been struggling lately with 5 draws in the last 5 matches, but they haven’t lost since Round 4 when they played Evergrande (even though that match was actually played after Round 11). Before that string of 5 draws, they had 5 wins in a row.

S: Is that so? Hah good work Mr Statto! That is indeed top end of the table form. A long way to go though, Shandong, Guoan, Guizhou and Liaoning I’d say are in there. Qingdao can’t imagine them getting near enough.

B: I honestly don’t see Liaoning moving that high, but who knows. I think it will be a hotly contested 3 way battle for 2 positions.

S: I wouldn’t put money on Liaoning either. But its early days, probably too early to say much more than we have so far. So how about the latest national squad? There were a few interesting omissions.

B: No real surprises on that front, I think the guys that got left off, maybe with an exception, needed to be left off. I’d wished the CFA would have gone farther and went with a much younger lineup, but I never really expected that to happen. However, Wang Dalei not being included was a bit of a shocker.

S: Yeah I was very surprised by that. I can tell you he is playing out of his skin, Shenhua would be in deep, deep shit without him. He must wonder what he has to do to stay in the squad.

B: I can see including Yang Zhi, who has been massive for Guoan and never really should have been out of the national team squad, but sticking with Geng just defies logic.

S: Yang Zhi is a long-standing goalie for the national team, I know he was injured for a while but no-one would dispute him being in the squad. For Geng, I don’t know how he’s doing at his club but he’s playing half as good as Wang, then Shandong are lucky.

B: Anything else interest you about the roster?

S: Yes, Hangzhou’s Shi Ke, in all honestly I had never heard of this guy. But presumably he’s going something right, and he’s very young.

B: It’s good to see a youngster given a chance. He’s been with the national team at a variety of levels, so why not bring him into the men’s national team.

S: Yeah now is the time for experimentation. Also I’m glad to see Wu Lei picked again, he’s going to become a regular from now on it would appear.

B: The experimentation really didn’t go far enough, too many veterans who were kept in the lineup. Though it’s interesting to see a number of Gao’s guys that Camacho overlooked being brought back.

S: Yeah, Du Wei, I was surprised to see him again in there.

B: Yeah, but I guess they’re willing to see what everyone can do. There’s a new sheriff who will be coming to town. So we’re two weeks into the transfer market and not much has changed since last week…

S: Yeah I was thinking the same. Seems the clubs are lazing around rather than doing any serious transfer business. I think your club has been busiest.

B: Yes, Guoan had more spots than anyone and have added Utaka to the team. Just looking at how “large” he is and his insistence on wearing a white undershirt two sizes to small to the signing ceremony and looking like your average street bum, you wouldn’t think much of him. However, he has a pedigree and not only has he proven himself in the CSL, he’s also played for Stanojevic before, so we’re expecting good things for a change.

S: He he. He’s a big guy. Mao Jinqing is out the Guoan door – is that a loan move to Shenxin? Or permanent?

B: It’s a loan but it might as well be permanent.

S: Yeah he doesn’t seem to have much of a future at Guoan. Or anywhere else, I fear.

B: So, from afar, what did you think of last night’s CFA Cup action?

S: I’m afraid the round was a rather huge disappointment for lovers of surprise results.

B: Yeah, not much doing…Aerbin over Shandong was the closest thing to an upset, but that wasn’t even all that unexpected considering both sides recent form.

S: Yep, not the result we would have predicted, but nevertheless not a shock by any means. Sainty’s 4-1 drubbing of R&F probably falls into the same category.

B: I think we’re going to have a situation where the Guoan-Evergrande semifinal is going to decide things.

S: That’s a distinct possibility. I was also heartened to see Evergrande also failed to keep a clean sheet against plucky Dali. But in the end, they just proved what a bunch of losers Shenhua’s reserves are, eventually winning 7-1 against the Yunnan province team.

B: Haha, I think everyone was hoping for that to be a little more interesting, but it wasn’t ever going to happen. It was nice that they got one at least.

S: Yep and looking at the Evergrande line-up for that game, mostly reserves from what I can tell. Good on Dali for their goal though as you say. It’s pretty much the top 8 of the CSL who are left, minus Shandong.

B: So what do you think of this weekend’s slate of matches?

S: Well there’s a Shanghai derby this weekend. It’s not a derby that really is getting everyone particularly excited, but it’s still more interesting than the average game. Elsewhere, it’s one of those average weeks, although I’d be interested to see the outcome of Sainty v Evergrande just to directly measure how those teams have progressed since last season.

B: Both good calls as nothing really jumps out from this weekend’s schedule. The Shanghai derby is probably the most exciting match, at least on paper, the sides are tied on points and 7 above the drop, if those lower sides keep winning, it may get dangerous for one of the two, but I’d have to say they’ll be safe considering how shite Wuhan and Tianjin are. The Evergrande match will be interesting, Guangzhou crushed Sainty the last time around, but Jiangsu’s always been strong at home, even against the champs.

S: Tianjin are lacking indeed, as are Wuhan, but they did manage a win last time around, against Sainty of all teams, not ideal preparation for the Nanjing men to face the best team in the land. I suspect Evergrande will dispatch Sainty without difficulty, but let’s see.

B: I think it will be close, but yeah, Evergrande won’t drop points.

S: Aye. Well, anything else this week mate?

B: I think that’s about it, cheers mate!

S: Cheers, until next time.

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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