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Pub Talk: Round of shock

There’s a lot going down this week, down in the pub. Evergrande’s first defeat of the season is as welcome as its nature is shocking, will there be more, your pair ask. The CSL’s competitiveness is called into question – is three-in-row good for anything? Elsewhere, Shenhua’s resurgence pleases Mr Ultra,and a truly shocking penalty game and even more shocking behaviour from a crazed individual is examine. And that is before they even talk Thai referees. All that, and more, in the pub, right here.

B: So we’re back in the pub, fall is in the air, and we have a lot of interesting happenings to talk about. Most of all, for the first time this year, there is no side in the CSL that’s undefeated.

S: Yes indeed. We had been grumbling for weeks about the CSL having gone a bit flat, but what a thrilling round we had last weekend, all manner of unexpected results, and controversy.

B: So I think we have to start with Guangzhou Evergrande falling to Tianjin, suffering their first loss of the 2013 season. Tianjin’s moved back to Teda Stadium and it seems to have done wonders for their attendance, I haven’t seen figures but it looked like a huge crowd for this match, but nobody saw this coming…

S: I was about to use the exact same phrase, no-one saw it coming at all. I think we might have expected Shandong to be the best remaining bet to break Evergrandes undefeated record. But Tianjin? Frankly I was flabbergasted, Evergrande appear to have had a real off day.

B: Do you expect we’ll see more losses now that they don’t have the record to protect?

S: I think another defeat is possible, but I don’t expect any real slump, they just have too good a team, I suspect the Tianjin result is a blip. Regardless, it’s just a matter of time before they secure the CSL trophy come what may.

B: Right, the title’s already theirs. I think what was interesting is that last week we saw the top three sides lose to teams that are fighting to stay alive.

S: Yeah it was a really shocking round, Shenxin beating Shandong was another shock result, but of all the top teams, Shandong probably have least to play for as their ACL qualification looks guaranteed, whereas Evergrande still have the ACL this season to look forward to. There
are a load of teams who still have a chance of ACL qualification, the rest are either safe in mid-table, or fighting relegation.

B: I don’t know, maybe that’s the optimism of a Shenhua fan speaking, as they’ve come from nowhere and jumped into 6th spot, arguably with a shot at an ACL spot only 8 points back, but I think, realistically, the final ACL spot comes down to Beijing or Guizhou, though R&F are likely to be in the mix for the time being.

S: Oh yeah, I don’t expect that anyone other than Guoan or Guizhou will make it, but there’s an outside chance for R&F, Shenhua have no chance.

B: Something to look forward to, the first match after the break sees R&F travelling to Gongti, if Guoan win, then R&F’s hopes will be over, if R&F win, it will be a three-way race.

S: Yeah, exciting prospect. It’s baffling for me to see Shenhua in 6th place, it’s not a position anyone excepted Shenhua to be in a month ago, never mind at the start of the season. It’s even more impressive when you consider the 6-point deduction, Shenhua are in a false position literally.

B: I would agree. Shenhua’s rise has been matched by a general rise of clubs at the bottom of the table, we’re headed into the final six matches and a side like Shenhua in 6th place are almost as close to a spot in Asia as they are to relegation. What gives with the CSL this year?

S: I don’t know, as we said after just entering the pub, things have definitely gotten more exciting of late. In recent seasons we have often seen a surprisingly small gap between ACL participation and the relegation battle, the CSL is a very a tight league when you take away the cream and the strugglers. Is it time to increase the league to 18 teams, as has been suggested in recent years?

B: I don’t know, I think this year has seen far too much mediocrity and oddity. I think perhaps in part it’s due to Shenhua and Tianjin’s point deduction, without it Shenhua would be in the Asian race right now and we’d see a little more space, but it just seems that there is Evergrande and Shandong, then Beijing and Guizhou, then 13 other sides, and then at the very bottom is Wuhan. From 5th to 15th is tighter than I remember it being.

S: I think Evergrande running away with it has perhaps numbed us a bit. It’s not the first time a team has totally creamed it, I think Shandong won it in… If I remember right, 2006 by a record amount. We’ve also had other crap teams before who just haven’t cut it, in the same way as Wuhan, Chongqing were saved by league reconstruction at least once by relegation and were always at the bottom of the table. What has changed is that the CSL used to be very competitive in terms of the winning team, its only last year we saw the first repeat winner. Now it’s going to be three in a row, so, naturally we are looking further down the table for excitement, and perhaps only now noticing things which aren’t that new.

B: Perhaps its a minor point, but there is typically a distinct top and bottom half with double digit points between the two, this year we aren’t there yet and I think its unlikely we’ll see that sort of gap. A champion running away with it and crap at the bottom is nothing new, what is is the distinct mediocrity pretty much everywhere else. Then again, I’m probably harping on this too much, 9 points separate 6 from 15 and I’m guessing with a cluster of teams from 6th to 9th sitting a point apart, by the end of the season these sides (or maybe one or two of them) will start to pull away from everyone else. That was put horribly…What I mean is that we’ll see some general separation between the middle and bottom of the table.

S: I think what you are saying is you agree with the school of thought that says tight leagues are the result of a lot of mediocrity. I think that is true this year, frankly Shenhua have their most mediocre squad in all the years I have watched them, but they have grabbed a lot of great results this year, and only Evergrande and Shandong have looked to be a clear cut above Shenhua in terms of quality. So I think Shenhua’s mediocrity pretty much supports what you said, Guoan and Guizhou I think have much better squads than Shenhua but the results haven’t shown it thus far.

B: There’s a lot of time left, but it seems like next year we’ll still have 3 Shanghai sides…

S: It’s looking like it, which is a pity, Shanghai needs a 3rd CSL side like it needs more skyscrapers and shopping malls.

B: Indeed. Well, while we’re talking Shanghai, I think we have to talk about Zhu Ting going mental…

S: Yes, I think alongside Evergrande’s defeat, last weekend’s huge talking point. Frankly, I think the guy is a total cock, no excuses for running on the pitch to assault the ref in the way he did. Your thoughts?

B: Well, I thought what led to it was one of the funniest things I’ve seen on a football pitch. One of his teammates had to pick him up and literally carry him off the field.

S: Yes, what a man-child, kicking and screaming like an infant. Sure, if I was a Wuhan player, I would have been spitting blood. But all his other team-mates managed to contain themselves or at least express their frustration verbally. Zhu Ting needs to man up.

B: I don’t know. I think its one of those very weird, “only in China” type matches where 3 goals all came from penalty kicks. There was plenty of reason to be mad and a number of Wuhan players and officials reacted almost as bad as Zhu, but his post match decision to attack the ref was obviously not well thought out.

S: Yeah I’m talking about running onto the pitch, that was completely ridiculous and not something anyone else did. You’d think he would have cooled down after being carded. But the penalties are another matter entirely. I think only Wuhan’s was a clear penalty, the first Shenhua spot-kick… it simply was not a foul on Moreno in any shape or form. The second was very soft at best. So Wuhan have ever right to be aggrieved, to that extent I can sympathize with the team. But not Zhu Ting, he’s clearly an imbecile.

B: Yeah, you know it’s a bad day when the referees are taken off the pitch by police in riot gear and one of them feigns a swing at a player…

S: Very much so. And onto the Thai referee – I heard he also gave two penalties to Guoan the previous week, is that correct?

B: If that’s the same referee, then yes. He completely lost control of the Guoan match, one of the penalties was a complete joke as it was obvious a foul outside the box (though it should have been a red card too).

S: Right, we have to be careful than about pointing the finger, but I did hear in the Shenhua commentary a reference to him having given penalties the previous week. It doesn’t look good either way, does it?

B: This brings up a quote I saw in an article last week, it mentioned that a Chinese referee gets ten thousand a match (I’m assuming that is RMB, but it isn’t specified), whereas a referee from Thailand may only earn $500 a match (more like RMB3,000). Is it time to start rethinking the heavy usage of foreign referees?

S: I think foreign refs are good in principle as they can potentially add an added layer of credibility in a league which suffers from you know what. But obviously that depends on the individuals. There are of course plenty of wild accusations flying about that the Thai ref was bribed, that is understandable when someone gives three penalties in one game with one completely erroneous and another totally doubtful.

B: I don’t know, perhaps he’s just a really shit referee. I think that its a sad either/or. The CSL is afraid of domestic referees taking payments, so instead they are using foreign referees. Great idea in principle, but in reality, more often than not they are choosing crap referees because they are cheap.

S: Yeah the referee certainly could be simply incompetent. But as we have said before, its about perception, especially in a country with the most cynical football followers on the planet. Cost may well be a part of it, seeing that they clearly have much bigger traveling expenses for foreign refs, perhaps they have to compensate for this by going for those who charge lower fees.

S: Well, there was the Guoan result which was also Guoan’s stumble up in Changchun, but I imagine that’s an even shorter conversation than the upcoming national team friendlies 🙂

B: You would be right, not sure how much the cold weather in Changchun was a factor, but Guoan simply didn’t show up to play, it was embarassing all around.

S: That result was another surprise one, and it keeps the ACL race open for a while longer at least. You mentioned the international friendlies coming up, yet again the CSL takes a mini-break. I’m not sure these friendlies are necessary at this time.

B: It’s a FIFA mandated break…

S: I know, all the more reason for the CFA to think more carefully about other fixtures they cram into non FIFA mandated breaks, like when they take three weeks off for qualfiers, etc.

B: I don’t think it’s a big deal and while the choices aren’t inspired (Singapore and Malaysia), both are teams for China to build confidence with.

S: That’s true. But having said that, I don’t think there’s much more to discuss as regards the friendlies, I expect more experimentation and probably some (hopefully) respectable results.

B: One can hope there…

S: My fingers will be crossed that the mini-resurgence under Fu can continue.

B: Well, it’s been a wild pub (the readers won’t know the half of Ultra’s drinking this week), is it time to bring it to an end?

S: Heh heh! Yes, all good things must come to an end!

B: Cheers mate!

S: Cheers

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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