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Pub Talk: Midsummer blues

B and S meet up in the pub once again seemingly with not much to talk about. But as the beer flows, they discover how wrong they are. It’s all about battles this week, about how will be in the ACL next year, who will win it this year and who will not be in the CSL next year, as Ultra frets about Shenhua’s recent slump – who is going down? Will Shanghai still have three CSL teams next year? Elsewhere, Guangzhou Evergrande’s chances in the next week’s ACL quarter final are assessed, and across town it seems Sven is doing a good job. There’s time for some picture specials this week, as the lads try to find something interesting to look at. That’s it this week, join in the discussion in the comments section if you can handle your beer.

Bcheng: We’re back in the pub this week, I’m glad to be here drinking with you as always, but why does it feel like there is nothing to talk about?

Shanghai Ultra: Good question! It was more of the same in the last round, things have gone a little stale mid-summer. At least we can still enjoy a beer in the pub, worthy topics or not.

B: Guangzhou Evergrande cruised to another victory, this time slaying Dalian Aerbin on Monday night (what’s with these Monday matches lately?!?). Aerbin had their chances, but couldn’t capitalize and in the end fell 3-0. I think Evergrande’s air of invincibility is almost as intimidating as the actual reality of it.

S: Ha, another reason to dread Mondays! And to think we both tipped Aerbin to be Evergrande’s nearest challengers this season. What went wrong there.

B: A lot….I think things have gotten better since switching managers, but I think those issues really set them back a lot.

S: Yeah, nevertheless they have flattered to deceive all year. You have wonder if it would have been different if the merger with Shide was allowed to go ahead.

B: Do you think that could have made a difference?

S: I think possibly in a psychological way. I was not familiar with the background staff at Shide, but every club has a culture, especially those who have been around in Chinese football at the beginning. Perhaps Shide as an institution could have brought their experience and been a stabilizing influence. Hard to say of course, purely speculation here.

B: I’m not sure, of the two, Shide was far more unstable than Aerbin. Plus, Aerbin was still able to cherry pick the most talented of Shide players. Plus, the Shide players who didn’t officially join Aerbin or another club have been practicing with Aerbin.
I think if you want to look at what the problem was it comes down to their manager being banned weeks before the start of the season, then not having a real manager for the opening months.

S: Yeah. You have to wonder why they didn’t find a replacement sooner. It was almost Shenhua-esque.

B: I think Li Ming thought his playing and front office experience would be enough to make him a real manager, or maybe he feared bringing someone else in too quickly, who knows…

S: They had the rug pulled out from under their feet with that anti-corruption sweep which Xu Hong got caught up in. Interesting that, it shows they either didn’t know anything about this possibility or thought the punishment would be lighter.

B: So going back to the subject of Evergrande, I think teams are completely lacking confidence when they face them. Guoan or Aerbin started out strong, created a few chances, but couldn’t get a goal, then Evergrande scores and the heads just drop.
Evergrande’s record and talent is becoming a huge intimidation factor and as they keep winning, it keeps growing.

S: I think you are right, I think teams in the CSL are a bit weak mentally, if you look at the stats, teams are very “streaky”.

B: Speaking of streaks, where did Guangzhou R&F come from? Is it Sven’s doing? It seems from out of the blue they are competing for an ACL position.

S: Sven has indeed got R&F going in the right direction. You’ve got a cluster of teams in contention for the ACL and close together on points. But I don’t think we even mentioned R&F last time we spoke about who may get into the ACL.

B: Right, since Sven’s been around things have really turned around and the team has started winning. I still don’t see them securing a place, but it’s a definite improvement and reason to think next year will be good.

S: I think its between you guys and Guizhou, and that will go right down to the wire I think.

B: Certainly, though this weekend’s match might help to clear things up

S: Yes it brings us neatly onto what’s going on this weekend. Thoughts on your game?

B: It’s going to be tough, Guiyang’s not an easy place to play, but they’ve been very up and down lately. I think Guoan will have to be disappointed if they come away with no points from this match. Maybe we’ll see the scoring continued by “muscle man” Shao Jiayi.

S: Shao is looking pretty buff there. Are you trying to attract a female audience into the pub B?

B: I’m sorry, I needed to work that in somehow, how utterly embarrassing, up there with the classic US Soccer “Boys of Summer” photoshoot.

S: Hahah. Great stuff. It’s summertime, what better is there to talk about than football players trying to look sexy. One thing I always notice is the Shanghai media’s focus on Hongkou Meinv. How shocking and shallow!

B: What was the recent internet meme out of Hongkou? The “beautiful, sad girl” or something?

S: There was pictures of this cute little chick standing down the front so dismayed at Shenhua’s inept performance against Hangzhou that her bottom lip was protruding and she was wearing a frown. Other reactions on the north terrace to the result were a lot less charming.

B: I can imagine….And there is a lot to pout about these days at Hongkou, considering Shenhua have fallen into the relegation battle right now. Here’s the photo, in good times and bad.

S: Ha! That’s a good one. Can I say I’m almost relieved to be able to talk about Shenhua for footballing reasons. Frankly, we are in serious trouble.

B: I would agree. Frankly, the only thing Shenhua, Shenxin, Changchun, and Tianjin (maybe even Jiangsu) have to be happy about is how terrible Wuhan are, which means only one of those four is going down.

S: Indeed, I think its safe to take Wuhan out of the equazion. That just makes each teams’ match against Wuhan a high pressure game. Shenhua already dropped two points against them earlier this season, and very nearly all three. What is happening now at Shenhua is injuries and suspensions are mounting at this point of the season and exposing the critical lack of strength and depth in the squad. It’s not pretty.

B: Right, it’s going to be an interesting battle during the final 10 matches of the season.

S: Tianjin are the most improved team, winning four of their last 5 games. That is impressive form for a team which couldn’t get going at all at the start of the year. It all looks so different now. At the half-way point, I don’t think anyone seriously thought Shenhua would be involved in the relegation battle. But now they are, and its thanks to the improving fortunes of other teams. It is going to be a very tough battle. Its looking to me as if Shanghai will have only two CSL clubs next year.

B: I think that’s a bold prediction right now. I think Tianjin did more than any other side to improve during the transfer window and they finally have confidence and look like they want to win. Changchun, which currently sits in the second relegation position is a weak side and has had a lot of turmoil over the course of the season. I think it will be between them and the two Shanghai sides, but if I was to bet, I’d say they are going down.

S: I’m feeling rather pessimistic. Shenhua already had a very weak squad at the start of the season. Their reserves are so bad Dai Lin is played at right-back rather than giving a second-string player the chance. Most of all Shenhua miss Xu Liang, his experience and impact has been massive. Plus the departure of Batista is increasingly looking like a more and more significant blow. It’s not easy to see where the goals and victories are going to come from to keep Shenhua out of the drop zone. The next few games are crucial. Changchun are in a bit of a mess too, but its only a few rounds ago they beat Shenhua. The relegation fight is going to be intense.

B: In 10 matches, you see pretty much every side in the CSL, but in that time Shenhua have two trips to Guangzhou and will also be away at Beijing and Dalian, all difficult matches. Then again, when talking about bottom of the table sides, its more important to see when they face off against other strugglers, and Wuhan, Jiangsu, and Changchun will all be travelling to Hongkou before the season ends.

S:It’s going to be about the bottom teams squaring off as you say. Sainty and East Asia could get drawn into it, but I would suspect not.

B: As you say, it’s going to be intense. Also sure to be intense and the reason why Evergrande travel to Changchun tonight, is the ACL quarterfinals next week. Guangzhou will host Qatari side Lekhwiya. I had to check multiple times to make sure I spelled that one right, I’m going to plead ignorance here…

S: Yes, tricky spellings in the Middle East. The ACL quarter final first leg will be out of the way by our next drinking session. What are your thoughts on that?

B: I think Tianhe will be a bit of a shock for them, it doesn’t seem like they’ve played in front of crowds of that size very often. They must have some naturalized Qataris as according to Wikipedia up to 8 of their players in the Round of 16 were foreigners. I have no idea what to expect, but their foreign players all tend to be very young.

S: I noticed that also, a lot of foreign players. Seems money talks in Qatar despite the tiny crowds most of their teams get. I’d expect Evergrande to do a number on them next Wednesday.

B: We’ll see, amongst their youngsters is Youssef Msakni, a 22 year old winger who has garnered a lot of interest from top European clubs, as well as Nam Tae-Hee, a South Korean attacking player who is the same age and already gaining prominence with the national team. I don’t think they’ll be pushovers, if they can get a goal it will certainly make the tie very interesting.

S: It will, looking at their squad as we have they do look to have some talent. But they are an unknown for the most part. Although I’m sure Lippi will have done his homework.

B: Yeah, it will be interesting to watch, I must say.

S: I have to ask – will you be rooting for Evergrande?

B: I don’t think you need to ask that, I would imagine you already know the answer.

S: Haha I admit yes I do. But I thought perhaps at this critical juncture you might lend your support for the good of the motherland.

B: I don’t see how it is good for the motherland in any way, unless the thinking is their success will speed up Xu Jiayin’s boredom with football.

S: Chinese football lacks confidence most of all, you know how seriously China takes the ACL, I think winning this competition would be good PR for China and it would definitely help a football system badly lacking self-esteem.

B: See, I call bullshit on that. Good PR, sure, I can see that, but I don’t see it adding to anyone’s confidence outside of whoever the starting XI is for Evergrande.

S: So you think a Chinese club winning the ACL would not be a positive thing for Chinese football?

B: It will help the perception of Chinese football, but it’s like a lot of things (including China’s success at the East Asian Cup), it will only help facially, in reality it won’t make a bit of difference in improving Chinese football.

S: I agree it will help Evergrande more than other clubs, but, have to be positive about it. The Chinese are a proud bunch, Evergrande winning it will send everyone into a flag-waving frenzy and add a much needed feel-good factor to the sport here. That has got to be good, the game needs all the victories it can get, beggars cannot be choosers I’m afraid.

B: As I always say, I’m a fan first and foremost. In China there is a lot of the “flag-waving” you talk about and it absolutely disgusts me. I know this is an issue in Europe too, some can come together and cheer for national pride while others can’t get over their league allegiances. To me, Guoan is the closest thing Evergrande has to a rival in the CSL, I just can’t see how I could support them and among the “ultras” in Beijing, I think there will be a lot of Qatar fans on Wednesday.

S: Yeah I totally hear that and I understand it, if you are maintaining a fan point of view only, I think you are being honest there and I’d have no problem with that. I’m looking at it more practically – I don’t like nationalism much, nor do I like big money and egotistical rich people coming into football. But these two things are the reality in Chinese football, for me Evergrande’s success would be a short term boost and step in the right direction overall for football here. I’ve no idea about how many away fans will be there. But I do know the Qatari league is very poorly supported, the population is tiny, and I have absolutely no idea why the 2022 world cup will be there.

B: Right, my points are more regarding a desire to see Evergrande win the tournament than facing off against their quarterfinal opponents. Lekhwiya has a roster that is obviously not Qatari and plays in a home stadium that holds 10,000. I am as unhappy as you about FIFA’s choice of Qatar to host the World Cup, but I have to be consistent.
It’s a sticking point for me about what good would really come from Evergrande winning the ACL, but I think that’s a discussion for future weeks.

S: I am absolutely all for the World Cup in new territories. But Qatar…. seriously? Was there not somewhere more suitable in the Middle East? I’d just rather have seen it go to somewhere which has a football culture or at least some kind of decent indigenous base which would bloom after the World Cup had moved on. I just hope the entire region can benefit from it, including East Asia. What really shocks me is how the question of staging it in the winter or summer was not answered before the votes were made. Looks amateurish at best.

B: Perhaps you should join me in cheering for Lekhwiya, by the same token Qatari football can use a good story and maybe if they beat “East Asian giants” Evergrande, fans will come out in droves……

S: Hahaha, if there were droves in Qatar then your amusing joke might also have some basis in real life. Anyway, back to China, and I see the Liaoning – Tianjin affair is back in the headlines.

B: Yes, a committee was sent to Shenyang to investigate and it seems they weren’t able to turn up much.

S: It’s hard to imagine what they would uncover. I believe the whole affair happened in the first place because everyone involved knew it would be impossible to prove. I still find this story rather depressing.

B: It’s an unfortunate situation, we’ve been over it a lot already, I think its too bad that this investigation is taking so long, a decision needs to be reached before the end of the month.

S: Yes we have. I doubt much will come of the investigation, I fear only innuendo and doubt will linger on afterwards. Elsewhere I read a story saying prominent Evergrande and Guoan domestic players were the subject of interest from Shandong. That was a very oddly timed story considering the transfer window closed two weeks ago.

B: I don’t think it’s that big a surprise, it’s an issue of when the summer transfer window is. Though it just closed, there are only two and a half months left to the 2013 season and it makes sense that players are looking at their contracts and thinking about next year.

S: Right, also I think the media has little else to talk about right now.

B: True, as has been kinda obvious by our site lately, things have hit a real lull…and yet we’ve still managed to babble on this long here in the pub.

S: That is the beauty of the pub, some beer, and two individuals with too much time on their hands.

B: Ah, exactly, cheers to that mate!

S: Our ability to ramble on is legendary, as witnessed by our stumbling out of a bar in Shanghai at 4am last year.

B: Cheers!

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

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