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Pub Talk: Chinese Asian Champions League victory aftermath…

There’s only one show in town this week. ‘s Chris Atkins joins the regular pubsters for some three-way Cantonese action as the boys discuss what the ACL victory means for Chinese football. B thinks not much, Chris is enthusiastic, whilst Mr Ultra is somewhere in the middle. Thoughts are offered, the final itself examined and the word is given. Elsewhere, there’s some time to cover CSL matters, are Harbin moving before their CSL party can even begin? Transfers are in the offing, who is actually off? Some big chinese export seems to be a done deal, and someone falls off their chair, and there’s time to look at China’s up and coming Asian Cup qualifers – will the feel-good factor survive the rest of the week? A lot of chat this week in the pub, so read on without further ado for our ACL Chinese winners special.

Shanghai Ultra: Alright let’s get this underway. Greetings gentlemen, hows it going?

Bcheng: Always good to be in the pub.

Chris Atkins: Hello there, my Shanghai-based friend. All good down South. In fact, I’d say the whole region is riding the crest of a wave regarding football. Not sure Mr. Cheng will be feeling the same, though.

Shanghai Ultra: Ha it starts already. I’m going to keep drinking my beer.

Chris Atkins: We’re on plastic glasses today, I notice. Seems is taking precautions.

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah no baijiu either. Alright well, we have a Chinese team who are champions of Asia, I think congratulations are in order. Personally as a Shenhua fan, I’ve no love for Evergrande, but I do think its a good thing, happy days.

Bcheng: Oh yeah, so happy, it’s really wonderful…

Shanghai Ultra: Party Pooper!

Bcheng: Otherwise known as realist….

Chris Atkins: I think at this point I want to step in. I’m not an Evergrande fan, but as everyone on the site knows I follow them closely. Whether their success will mean anything for Chinese football long-term is, of course, doubtful. However, it is a much-needed morale boost and there is much that other clubs can learn from them on and off the field. If they can even drag one or two others up with them, that’s a positive for me.

Shanghai Ultra: I think you hit the nail on the head man. We shouldn’t be so serious and dull, B I think you have to at least throw the Cantonese a bone.

Bcheng: Seriously? I love all the talk about a morale boost and all, but whose morale does it boost outside of Guangzhou? What can clubs learn beyond they need to blow massive amounts of money? It’s a wonderful accomplishment for Guangzhou Evergrande, that’s obvious, but what does it mean for Chinese football…

Chris Atkins: There is more to Evergrande than just money, or else every club who splashed money would achieve success. Lippi has every single one of their starting Chinese players a better player than they were 18 months ago and, off the pitch, they would appear to be putting in place structures for long-term stability.

Shanghai Ultra: It’s definitely too early to say its something big for Chinese football. I mean we could be sitting here next week lamenting another national team failure in the Asian Cup Qualifiers. But we have to look on the bright side, not to do so is macabre. One thing I do think is Evergrande, from a footballing standpoint, have taken a more professional approach, something at least some clubs could learn from.

Bcheng: Sure there’s more to Evergrande than spending money, but not that much more. I find it laughable you believe they have put a structure in place for long term stability as their “structure” is at its heart almost impossible to keep stable. But yes, bringing in top foreign players and hiring one of the world’s best managers is sure to create a more professional approach pretty quickly.

Shanghai Ultra: I think Chris’s point is that the structure has been put in place, there’s not time to make a judgement of what results it will yield yet, of course.

Chris Atkins: You would hope that, at the very least, their 2300 student academy will produce a handful of good players. Likewise, advances in nutrition, medical expertise and training facilities must help. No?

Shanghai Ultra: But then again we can get into the real estate market and how long Evergrande are going to stick around. It’s not sustainable. Argh, we’ve talked about all this before. Let’s stick to the ACL result itself.

Bcheng: It’s good that they have the academy in place, we’ll see how things go though. Of course, most of the top clubs have had pretty solid academies in place for a number of years already. We’ll see if/when the first group of students make it into the CSL.

Chris Atkins: What did you chaps make of the game itself? Having attended both legs, I felt they were deserving of the success and would like to highlight the role of Zheng Zhi in particular. Kim Young-Gwon and Conca get many headlines, but Zheng was exceptional.

Shanghai Ultra: Unfortunately I didn’t see much of either legs. Seems to me Evergrande were the better side.

Bcheng: I think Kim and Conca were the stars, as is to be expected. I think they outplayed Seoul, but to say they deserved it, I don’t…Away goals is a pretty depressing way to lose, even worse than penalties if you ask me.

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah I’d rather see a penalty shoot-out.

Chris Atkins: Ideally they would have won in another fashion, I agree. I can only praise Seoul, though, who stuck in the game despite Evergrande dominating the first hour at Tianhe. A lot of CSL sides could learn from that mentality, even when they fell behind in both legs.

Shanghai Ultra: I think this was the first time I can remember a Chinese side going into such a big game and against such good opponents as favourites.

Bcheng: It’s been awhile, you’re right, I hate to bring this up, but it was probably the match in October 2001 against Oman that was the last time.

Chris Atkins: Would they have been favourites had they met in the group stage? Or have Evergrande earned that with their performances since?

Shanghai Ultra: I think Evergrande had a lot to prove on the continental stage. Last year they looked like a difficult side to beat, but they never really looked like potential winners. This season they looked like they had definitely levelled up.

Bcheng: I don’t know if they would have been favorites or not. Also not sure how much they were considered favorites internationally. In China, there was definitely the attitude Evergrande were the better side and many were surprised at how close the final was. I’m sure Chris having travelled to Korea witnessed a lot of optimism as well. So I’m honestly not sure what the international mindset was about Evergrande.

Chris Atkins: Many Korean reporters had Evergrande as the clear favourites prior to the first leg. They were hopeful that Seoul could get something out of the home game, which they did, but there was a definite feeling that Evergrande were more likely winners.

Shanghai Ultra: I think there is definitely an awareness that Evergrande had won their league at a canter, had Marcello Lippi at the helm and had spent an awful lot of money, for those reasons I believe Evergrande were favourites overseas.

Chris Atkins: I hope that anyone who reads the site has had chance to catch GZBiffo’s picture essay of the evening. It should give some indication of what the night was like in the stadium.

Shanghai Ultra: I was impressed with Biffo’s ability to recollect events so clearly…

Chris Atkins: We went for a couple after the game as you would expect. We got off lightly, as our Korean colleague had already been on the whiskey when he joined us.

Bcheng: An awful lot of money is almost an understatement. Xu Jiayin bought the club for US$16 million and then went out and spent close to US$300 million on transfer fees alone. That doesn’t even include salaries for the players or Lippi.

Chris Atkins: US$300 million? That sounds excessive as Conca is the record signing at $10 million, no?

Shanghai Ultra: I’m always very sceptical of reported transfer fees.

Bcheng: I think Barrios was close to $12 million.

Bcheng: They broke the record many times over…

Shanghai Ultra: Sounds like $300 million is a bit much when we look at it in the context of Barrios and Conca’s deals. But I’d rather drink beer than have a maths lesson.

Chris Atkins: *the club spent US$44.5 million in transfer fees* – not for inclusion. Sounds like 300m RMB?

Bcheng: Could be…I’m not up for math either, then again, considering they paid over a million dollars each for Yi Teng and Qin Sheng, the number isn’t a small one.

Chris Atkins: I’m all for that. B, shall we raise a glass to reports of Guoan (Shandong, R&F and maybe even Shenhua) investing major sums next year?

Shanghai Ultra: I think I feel light-headed already with all these big numbers flying around in the pub.

Bcheng: As mentioned in my article earlier this week, I had it at US$44.5 million, though that doesn’t include a number of major transfer fees (Barrios, Cleo, Paulao, Yang Hao, and Jiang Ning, all multimillion US dollar transfers). Anyways, I think it will be interesting to see how these sides invest, I think some of the talk is pretty crazy, especially my own club, because they are likely keeping 4 out of the 5 foreigners and only looking to sign an Asian player.

Bcheng: I do think its interesting to finally see talk of major investment, we’re finally seeing the “Evergrande effect” at play here.

Chris Atkins: Could well be. On Guoan, if they keep four of the five foreign players come next February I’d be amazed. They won’t finish third again if they do, I’d say.

Shanghai Ultra: I think B is right, the Evergrande effect may be about to finally take hold in earnest. I’m glad to hear Guoan are taking the concept of continuity seriously. If you always change your squad wholesale every season, it becomes a bit of a lottery.

Chris Atkins: B, think they will sort out Yang Zhi’s contract eventually? Also, Zhang Xizhe to Celtic? I’d be interested in both your views on that one.

Bcheng: Yeah, I agree. Chris, why would you be amazed? Peter Utaka is one of the CSL’s best strikers, Joffre Guerron looks to have finally found his footing in the CSL, Darko Matic is aging, but he’s a solid, calming presence in the midfield. Freddie Kanoute is too old, but I’m guessing he’d be the odd man out and he could be a good option coming off the bench. That’s a pretty solid foursome, add in an Aussie central defender and you have one of the strongest groups of foreigners in the CSL.

Bcheng: Yang Zhi’s likely to stay in Beijing. Regarding Zhang, I think Celtic’s a good move for him, he should be able to get playing time, but that’s what it comes down to, right? Are they buying him because they want him on the pitch or is it part of their joke of a deal with PPTV.

Chris Atkins: It is a strong group, but I don’t see Kanoute staying personally. It’s him or Matic for me, at this point.

Bcheng: Well, Matic’s definitely staying as he’s under contract. Guoan’s trying to sign Freddie, but to be honest I wouldn’t mind seeing

Shanghai Ultra: Come what may I do think its a solid group of foreigners. But I am not sure its strong enough to challenge Evergrande, I hope it is, and I would add a lot depends on Conca’s replacement,.

Chris Atkins: On Zhang, I think he should play there and Celtic have been a good stepping stone for many other players (not necessarily Asian). I do worry that it’s just a part of the PPTV deal, but I could understand that business wise as PPTV need to sell subscriptions. I was speaking to Zhang Linpeng the other night after the final, also. He’s not aware of any offers, but the indications are Evergrande are content to sell this winter and he’d certainly be keen to go.

Bcheng: If Zhang leaves he will leave a massive hole in Guoan’s midfield, I don’t know how they fix that (maybe with Yu Dabao?). He’s good enough to play at Celtic, he just needs a chance. With Zhang Linpeng, I’ve heard the same thing, Evergrande are more than willing to sell him, but it doesn’t seem he has any suitors, maybe they’ll be coming, though he hasn’t been all that impressive in big matches as of late.

Chris Atkins: He’s been playing with a crack in his ankle, as was revealed last week. Requires injections just to get on the pitch.

Shanghai Ultra: Celtic are a middle-ranking club, I do think it’s a good place for Zhang to go, it would test him physically as its fast and strong British football there. I wouldn’t put money on him being a success there, too many factors. One thing I would say is the Scottish league isn’t as easy as people think, a lot of the commentary on Twitter about it is ignorant and ill-informed.

Bcheng: I’m not sure what you are referring to, but having seen Zhang play over the past six months, if he’s honestly given a chance to perform, I’m confident he can. He’s an incredibly talented all-around player.

Chris Atkins: I do hope Celtic ease up with use of words like “phenomenal”. Let the kid have a bit less pressure, even if he’s a fine player.

Bcheng: I think that’s just the common talk about a player a club’s looking at.

Shanghai Ultra: I really hope he makes it, but the last few foreign adventures for Chinese players hasn’t worked out. The Scottish is way more physical and faster than the CSL, it will be a real test, if he makes it there, it will put him in great standing to move to a bigger club than Celtic.

Bcheng: I think he deserves talk like that in any case, to my mind there wasn’t a better Chinese player in the CSL this season. Double digits in both goals and assists, on the pitch for every match, he was huge this year, especially in the big matches, few can compare.

Chris Atkins: Sure, I agree with you. But, they shouldn’t expect him to instantly repeat that in Scotland were he to move.

Bcheng: I’m not saying he’ll make an instant impact…

Shanghai Ultra: I think “phenomenal” is a huge exaggeration. He has much to prove.

Bcheng: But seriously, that’s just bullshit talk anyways, the type of thing any club says when looking to bring in a player. No club’s going to say “we have this really mediocre Chinese player we’re looking at.”

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah on that point I agree it’s just transfer related talk. And on the other side, its good to hear good things being said about Chinese players.

Chris Atkins: I was simply surprised the club were talking so openly. Suggests to me a deal is done.

Shanghai Ultra: I think you may be right, Celtics chief big-wig even said they are “interested in the market” – although Zhang is good enough to get the chance on his own merits. And we shouldn’t be surprised, Celtic have a long habit of looking way outside Glasgow to expand their plastic-paddy fanbase, though doing so overseas will help them increase the average IQ of their support, and dilute the more insane terrorist-glorifying element of their fans, which is a very sizeable one. An embarrassment to Scottish football along with that other shower from Glasgow.

Bcheng: Haha, with that I think its time to move on…

Shanghai Ultra: It’s the beer. Hic.

Chris Atkins: All complaints to be addressed to: Shanghai Ultra, 1 Shanghai Drive, Shanghai.

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah, Suck it.

Bcheng: So what to next? Do we talk about China’s massive two upcoming matches?

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah good call. Predictions? Does anyone dare? Will Chinese football (Guangzhou to you, B) come crashing down back to Earth?

Chris Atkins: They’ll beat Indonesia, but it’ll be the Saudi game that’s the big test. Poor old Fu Bo will have Lippi watching from the stands also.

Shanghai Ultra: Oh dear.

Bcheng: I hope you’re right about Indonesia, they certainly struggled behind closed doors against that side, but we all have to expect they will beat them. Against the Saudis, you’re right, it’s all up in the air, though if the Saudis beat Iraq, I believe they secure their spot in the next round, so maybe they won’t be so motivated against China. It is kinda hard to be managing when you have your replacement watching over your shoulder.

Chris Atkins: The replacement who will only take the job if you win, I’d imagine. Crazy situation.

Bcheng: From my understanding Fu Bo won’t be around next year, he’ll have already taken a CSL job.

Chris Atkins: Linked to Liaoning is what I’ve heard

Shanghai Ultra: I think they ought to make a decision quickly on NT position, Fu Bo has a hard enough time as it is without the uncertainty.

Bcheng: I don’t know, it’s hard to make a decision because they want a “big name” and you’re not going to get that at this point. Next year’s a World Cup year, not many top managers are going to be interested in coaching a team that will only play a few friendlies. I still think Lippi will be the national team manager after the 2014 season.

Shanghai Ultra: Right, in time to take China to the Asian Cup in Australia in 2015. But… China are really risking it, if they don’t qualify….

Bcheng: I think that’s something worthy of discussion. Since China started taking part in the Asian Cup, they’ve made it into every single one. Would not making it be even worse than the loss to Thailand? Will we be talking about China’s worst failure right after one of its best accomplishments? Will that just make it all the more clear how important Lippi, Conca, Elkeson, and Kim are?

Shanghai Ultra: I think it would be much worse than the Thailand game. That was just one result. The Asian Cup is something China should qualify for without issue.

Chris Atkins: Lippi is hugely important to Evergrande. But, the fact every CSL side has foreigners in the spine of the time says a lot about Chinese players at present. We’re talking about 3-4 simply being good enough for a European move, which is pretty pathetic.

Bcheng: How many players on Saudi Arabia and Indonesia are playing in Europe?

Shanghai Ultra: I think Saudi’s entire team is based in Saudi actually.

Chris Atkins: It has to be, or at least that used to be the rule I believe. Doesn’t mean they don’t have players capable of that, though. China, at present, has very few.

Shanghai Ultra: But then again, Saudi’s got something like 30 million people, whereas China’s got… oh I forget what’s that number again?

Bcheng: Oh don’t start that…

Shanghai Ultra: Ha ha. Well, I think China has enough talent at present to dispose of Indonesia at home.

Bcheng: I’m hoping we’re talking about two victories when we meet again next week, but I’m honestly not sure, I wouldn’t dare to predict anything when talking about the national side. But to talk about the glory of Evergrande’s accomplishment, I think it hits home what it means for Chinese soccer when 9 players from that side are going to be in the national side, at least 3 and up to 5 are likely to start, and the team may fail to get past Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, just goes to show ya…

Shanghai Ultra: It may, but also perhaps the confidence boost of coming from an ACL-winning country may give some boost, at least it should to the sizeable Evergrande contingent.

Bcheng: One would hope…

Shanghai Ultra: But I also think we are being disrespectful to Indonesia and Saudi. Indonesia has a vibrant football culture and from where I’m standing the country appears to be more in love with the game than China does. Saudi on the other hand have a pedigree of several world cups. Not sure how much that will come into play next week, but it should be acknowledged nevertheless. Mr Atkins, are you still with us? He’s fallen asleep at the back of the house.

Bcheng: Too many beers? Light weight…

Chris Atkins: Sorry, a couple too many this week. Saudi have long been a respected Asian side and will probably start as favourites. We’d need a week in the pub to set straight all the National Team’s issues at present. I just hope they can get the results to avoid yet more wanton criticism.

Bcheng: I will say I know many Chinese fans were disappointed the Indonesian match was behind closed doors. They have heard so much about the passion of the Indonesian fans and were hoping to see it on tv, but instead they played in front of a lot of seats…

Shanghai Ultra: Yes that was a spectacle we were all denied. What a disappointment.

Bcheng: Before we roll out the pub, do we want to talk a little about Harbin Yiteng?

Shanghai Ultra: Yes, what’s the latest there

Chris Atkins: Yeah, interesting story developing there.

Bcheng: It is depressing to hear the club could be leaving Harbin after having just made it into the CSL.

Shanghai Ultra: Yes, that is news I was dreading. What’s going on now?

Bcheng: The club says they are hoping to stay in Harbin, a number of fans braved the snow last weekend to pass along their desire for the club to remain in that city, but the club’s in talks with Dalian as well.

Shanghai Ultra: For fucks sake. Dalian, are you serious?

Bcheng: The club’s roots are in Dalian.

Chris Atkins: Would be a really nice addition to have Harbin in the CSL, with all three Dongbei provinces then represented.

Bcheng: The stadium in Harbin appears to require a number of renovations if the club is to stay there. I know Cammy and I’ve had a talk a few days ago about this, part of the issue may be the weather and the “need” to start out the season on the road, which is something I vehemently disagree with.

Shanghai Ultra: I am not sure why you are so against that, isn’t it sensible to start out on the road when the temperatures are so cold?

Chris Atkins: If it’s a player and supporter safety issue, it would seem logical to me.

Bcheng: If it’s a player safety issue, there wouldn’t be summer matches in Guangzhou…There’s only a few degrees difference between average temp of Harbin and Changchun.

Chris Atkins: That’s excessive as the temperature can be hotter in Beijing than Guangzhou in summer and all games here are evening.

Bcheng: Haha, no. In Guangzhou its not only the heat, its the insane humidity. Plus, 3-5 matches are ruined by the torrential rain each season.

Chris Atkins: That’s definitely true!

Shanghai Ultra: Much of southern China is very humid during summer. Anyway back to B’s point, I think Changchun has a very similar climate, so yes either make both start on the road or neither.

Bcheng: Home field advantage is home field advantage, that’s just part of football. I think maybe you make them play on the road the first weekend, maybe even first two matches, but from there, it is what it is. Let’s just hope we have this “problem” to discuss next year, we really don’t need to see them moving.

Shanghai Ultra: I wholeheartedly agree. Well it appears that Mr Atkins has fallen off his bar stool and is unable to complete today’s discussion.

Chris Atkins: *groans*

Shanghai Ultra: Ok, well on that note, I think we should drink up old chaps.

Chris Atkins: Been a pleasure, I think. Cheers chaps. Also, there was a new update on the transfer tracker yesterday, so check out all the latest gossip and transfer news.

Shanghai Ultra: Yes, I’ll have a gander at that. Cheers and good night all.

Bcheng: 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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