It’s that time of year again as your Shenhua correspondents Steve Crooks and Cameron Wilson take a look back at how the squad performed during 2013, a year in which expectations were exceeded. Comparing and contrasting this review with last year’s scorecard makes for interesting reading, but for this year, read on for the full monty on the saints and sinners at Hongkou this season.
1 – Wang Dalei – Goalkeeper – Appearances: 28(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 10/10 It’s impossible to give an accurate number of points Wang has won for Shenhua this season, but it must be in double-figures. I just can’t think of what more this guy could realistically do at this point in his career and at the level he is at. I agree his distribution needs work, but that’s not quite worth taking off a whole mark for in my view. Shenhua and Wang himself owe a massive debut of gratitude to goalie coach Ian Walker, he’s quietly made all the difference. Were it not for Wang and Walker, Shenhua would most likely be in China League One right now. Hands-down player of the year and should be getting more chances for the national team.
Crooks: 9/10 Shenhua’s player of the season again for me, and very close to getting perfect marks again. Continues to add concentration, positioning and cross-claiming ability to his exemplary shot-stopping, and the only thing keeping Wang from being a complete goalkeeper is his still-shoddy distribution, which I’ve taken a mark off for here. Won points for the team in countless close games, and came agonizingly close to getting on the scoresheet in the dying minutes of that madcap season-ender at Yuexiushan.
2 – Rolando Schiavi – Defender – Appearances: 26(2) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 8 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10 Rolled back the years and made many, your correspondent included, eat large helpings of humble pie. A calming presence at the back with GPS-like positional awareness, Schiavi was one of the success stories of the season. Lacked pace and mobility as a 40-year-old would, but a superb tackler with a touch of class.
Crooks: 8/10 Confounded those pre-season worries by showing that class is indeed permanent, and was a crucial factor in Shenhua’s surprisingly resilient rearguard and early-season form. One of the best readers of the game in the CSL, and seemingly always in the right place to put in a telescopic tackle or interception. Faded a little in the second half of the season, possibly due to those 40-year-old legs feeling the strain – surely 2014 is a bridge too far? Thanks for the service, Franco.
4 – Li Jianbin – Defender – Appearances: 26(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10 A natural partner for Schiavi with his incredible agility, Li Jianbin endured a fairly dodgy start to his Shenhua career. Looking very short of match practice he improved steadily as the season went on to look like a seriously solid defender. Returns to Evergrande after his loan at Shenhua, uncertain whether he will return.
Crooks: 8/10 Had a sliding-doors moment in the Shandong game when yet another mistake was reprieved with a wrongly disallowed goal, and Shenhua broke to begin their best smash-and-grab of a season of smash-and-grabs. Up to that point, Li had been directly responsible for pretty much every chance Shenhua conceded – as the season went on, he developed into a very reliable and committed center-back. In the 2012 review I wished for an upgrade on Moises as a thou-shalt-not-pass defensive stopper – Li has proved that upgrade.
5 – Dai Lin – Defender – Appearances: 29(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 9 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6/10 Shenhua’s most solid and cultured defender in recent seasons, 2013 will go down as one of Dai Lin’s poorer years. Shoehorned into an unfamiliar right-back position for the best part of the year, Dai Lin can be forgiven for looking a bit lost. But his poor temperament appears to make him less versatile than he might be. Really should be put back at centre half next season.
Crooks: 7/10 Dai Lin played more minutes for Shenhua than any other player this season – and remarkably few of them in his favored position. Struggled a little playing at right-back, as many natural center-halves would, but showed signs of a promising partnership with Li towards the end of the season. Really needs to leave the 35-yard shooting to the forwards, though.
7 – Wang Changqing – Midfielder – Appearances: 26(7) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 4 – Reds: 1
Wilson: 5/10 Journeyman midfielder whose main attribute is his work rate, Wang simply lacks the finesse to be anything other than a stop gap replacement until someone better can be found for his position. Did a decent job at right-back, but he’s a poor tackler.
Crooks: 7/10 Stepped into Yu Tao’s role as the journeyman utility player, featuring primarily at fullback and wide midfield. Not a natural defender – a propensity for wild lunges might have resulted in a higher card count – but lacked nothing in workrate and commitment to the cause, and gave the side needed balance at times.
8 – Song Boxuan – Midfielder – Appearances: 25(4) – Goals: 1 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10 Song was indeed on fire mid-season and finally emerged from the shadow of his old Tianjin Locomotive team-mate Feng Renliang. His hot streak of form went barely noticed outside of Shanghai, which meant defenders were ill-prepared for his dribbling and running. Unfortunately he tends to over-elaborate and his shooting ability is poor, as evidenced by his shoddy return of just one goal. On his day one of the best wingers in the CSL, but inconsistency is his problem. Always will be remembered in 2013 for an outrageous piece of skill which lead to Gio Moreno’s goal against East Asia in the Shanghai derby at Hongkou.
Crooks: 7/10 For the middle part of the season, Song Boxuan was a CSL-beater. For the beginning and end of the season, he was the head-down dribbler with a penchant for the selfish and theatrical which so frustrated fans last year. If he can improve his attitude – consistency and awareness of teammates still elude Song – there’s a top-drawer winger in the boy. A return of only one goal – even if it was a goal of the season contender – isn’t enough for a first-choice forward player, either. I both hope for and expect more from Song in 2014.
9 – Dady – Forward – Appearances: 27(14) – Goals: 9 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6/10 Perhaps a stingy mark for Dady, but missed a boatload of easy chances and was a little fortunate to score as many as he did. A poor player technically, Dady however did give 100% and that was just what Shenhua needed this season. Still miles better than Mattieu Manset.
Crooks: 7/10 Ah, Dady. Despite looking incapable of playing football at times, the big Cape Verdean became a bit of a cult figure at Hongkou this season. Despite his stature, Dady seems incapable of holding the ball up or winning flick-ons, but came up with some vital goals (largely as a super-sub) and sublime finishes. The poor man’s Kanu.
10 – Giovanni Moreno – Midfielder – Appearances: 21(0) – Goals: 9 – Yellows: 6 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 8/10 I just can’t rate Moreno higher than 8. Easily one of the most naturally talented players in the entire league, Gio is also one of the most wasteful. Thankfully for Shenhua, when his passes and shots did come off, they were of the result-changing variety. Frustrating for British fans to watch because of his supreme lack of effort, he returned to the team after the bizarre transfer-that-never-was to the middle east to be the most influential player in the second half of the season. Stupidly talented, he just doesn’t live up to his potential. Should really be in the Columbian World Cup squad, but seems his international career has stalled. Shame really, because he’d never make it in Europe.
Crooks: 9/10 That’s a 9/10 through gritted teeth – rarely has a player frustrated as much as Moreno does. At his best, he’s capable of giving even Evergrande’s stars a run for their money. At his lackadaisical worst, i.e. 80% of the time, he’s a fully paid-up member of Nic Anelka’s ambling army. Still, it’s impossible to argue against the string of game-changing goals and performances which captain Gio put in for the second half of the season. Shenhua’s best player, but could be so much more.
11 – Firas al-Khatib – Forward – Appearances: 29(1) – Goals: 11 – Yellows: 2 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7.5/10 Firas is the kind of player Shenhua’s management must dream of. The +1 in the 3+1 foreigner equation, an international pedigree, ice-cool penalty taker, unselfish team-player, selfless attitude, intelligent runner, regular goal-scorer and even doesn’t mind going months without a salary. Even Shenhua have broken their usual annual foreigner clearout rule to sign him up for another season. Faded a bit in the second half of the year, but his contribution was massive.
Crooks: 8/10 One of the stars of 2013, and another who confounded expectations. The unheralded Syrian proved a tireless bundle of intelligent running, creating space and goals for others as frequently as himself. Scored almost all Shenhua’s goals in the first half of the season and weathered a barren spell to end up top-scorer. One of the very coolest penalty takers this correspondent has seen in the flesh, too.
12 – Bai Jiajun – Defender – Appearances: 23(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 6 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 7/10 Finally Shenhua have a proper left-back on the books after selling Sun Xiang a few years back. Tenacious player unafraid to really get stuck in, give 100% or get forward to support as modern fullbacks need to do. Give him the number 3 shirt next year, it should be his for years to come unless he gets a move abroad.
Crooks: 7/10 Delighted that we signed this boy up full-time. A very modern fullback, shuttling up and down the left touchline all day long. Should develop into a stalwart of the side.
15 – Zhang Yilin – Midfielder – Appearances: 16(10) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6/10 Zhang looked comfortable coming into the team without really setting Hongkou alight. Hopefully he can get more playing time next season, needs more CSL experience.
Crooks: 6/10 That rarest of things – a Shenhua squad player who doesn’t look dreadful when called into the team, and picked up a fair few appearances as a result. Still young, and will have learned from his first season in the CSL. Still very anonymous as times.
17 – Xiong Fei – Defender – Appearances: 6(3) – Goals: 1 – Yellows: 3 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10 Didn’t really make much of an impression good or bad in the times he appeared on the pitch, but did enough to suggest he should have been given more chances ahead of Wang Changqing who was played out of position. Unlikely to become a first-team regular unless he puts in a lot more effort.
Crooks: 5/10 Tends to look a little unconvincing at full-back, which is why a series of managers have preferred a string of out-of-position alternatives. Took his goal away at R&F neatly enough, though. Really needs to get his head down and break into the team sometime soon if he’s serious about having any kind of career.
19 – Zheng Kaimu – Midfielder – Appearances: 8(7) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 4 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10 Really a shame this season that as a youngster Zheng didn’t get more games especially when Wang Shouting isn’t any better than him. This season he simply didn’t look like the player Jean Tigan singled out for special praise at the start of 2012. I’m at a loss as to why he didn’t perform this year. Here’s hoping he gets another chance in 2013.
Crooks: 5/10 Disappointing. One of the success stories of 2012 seems to have regressed. You can see why both coaches have preferred the more all-around game of Wang Shouting this year – Zheng is a fine destroyer, but hapless in possession. Could well end up playing more at center-back if he doesn’t develop his confidence passing the ball.
20 – Xu Liang – Midfielder – Appearances: 15(1) – Goals: 3 – Yellows: 5 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 8/10 Another player who looked to be not that good a signing but turned out to be a vital acquisition. A pivotal midfielder his first touch, passing, movement and general situational awareness and style ooze class and he looks like a proper footballer. Hampered by injury this season, he can go on to be one of Shenhua’s best domestic midfielders if he continues this form for the rest of his career at the club. Scored of two wicked free-kicks this season, he gave the fans something to be excited about.
Crooks: 8/10 Crucial. After a quiet start, quickly established himself as vital to the side’s ball retention and rhythm, and it’s no coincidence that Shenhua’s mid-season slide coincided with Xu’s injury layoff. His home return was the stuff of dreams, whipping in those pinpoint free kicks to make one and score the winner in front of an adoring north terrace. Shanghai’s favorite ex-Guo’an man, and his fitness for 2014 will have a great impact on Shenhua’s prospects.
21 – Jiang Kun – Midfielder – Appearances: 21(13) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 0 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 1/10 Retire.
Crooks: 1/10 Oh dear. Everyone’s least favorite one-paced, rolly-polly ex-footballer saw a frankly ridiculous amount of pitch time this season, to frequent cat-calls of “retire!” from the stands. Has long ago lost anything he once had, and a shambolic open-goal miss summed up his season. Seriously, retire. Please.
22 – Qiu Shenjiong – Goalkeeper – Appearances: 2(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 0 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 3/10 A good shot-stopper, but Qiu seems to have a concentration problem which is of course a critical failing for a goalkeeper. Must be difficult playing number 2 to Wang Dalei, but Qiu failed to grab the chance to impress when it come his way, becoming chief participant in an appalling 3-2 defeat to a 3rd division side in the CFA cup.
Crooks: 2/10 We don’t normally do ratings for players who only feature a couple of times, but comedy fatman Qiu deserves a mention. Somehow kept a clean sheet in his first outing of the year, and reverted to form by letting in a string of horrendous goals against a semi-pro side in the cup, and a game-loser in the league too.
27 – Patricio Toranzo – Midfielder – Appearances: 25(8) – Goals: 2 – Yellows: 1 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 6/10 Toranzo has an eye for a defence splitting pass as well as for the ladies. The problem was he did not do this enough and never managed to even begin to impose himself in midfield battles. A bit better than the usual average journeymen midfielders than flow through the Hongkou revolving door each year, he was however a luxury player in a team with Lord Moreno already hogging the sedan. Further evidence of the lack of thought which goes into Shenhua’s transfer policy.
Crooks: 5/10 I actually rate Toranzo quite highly as a footballer – or, more accurately, as an attacking midfielder. Showed some great link-up play with Firas and ability to play the killer through-ball. The problem with Toranzo is that he has all too frequently been played in a deeper, more central role to cover for the repeated absences of Xu (cruciate injury) and Gio (wrong time of the month). Toranzo in central midfield is a lightweight, eyes-closed waste of space who can neither win nor recycle the ball. Emblematic of Shenhua’s lack of squad depth.
28 – Cao Yunding – Midfielder – Appearances: 23(13) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 4 – Reds: 0
Wilson: 5/10 Who knows what was going through Cao’s mind this year. A very talented attack-minded midfielder, he simply looked lost this year. Concerns were made about his fitness, but no-one could possibly be unfitter than Jiang Kun, the old codger who kept Cao out of the first team. Hard to know what to say about Cao other than one really hopes he comes back next season refreshed after his trial with Villarreal in Spain.
Crooks: 5/10 Possibly the disappointment of the season – disappointing that he dropped behind Jiang Kun in the pecking order, and also that he rarely took the opportunity to prove the coach wrong when presented with it. Cao is in danger of disappearing off the radar – from breakthrough player in 2011 to 2012’s impact sub, and making little to no dent on the 2013 season. If the talent is still there, then we need to see it on the pitch.
36 – Wang Shouting – Midfielder – Appearances: 24(0) – Goals: 0 – Yellows: 7 – Reds: 1
Wilson: 6/10 – A journeyman player who did what was expected of him but not much more, again his first team regular status said a lot about the alarming lack of depth in Shenhua’s squad. His highlight was his absurd 6 game suspension for pulling a play-acting Malky MacKay off the pitch for treatment against Changchun.
Crooks: 7/10 Tidy, reliable, committed – did exactly the job he was picked to do in midfield alongside his more glamorous team-mates, and did it with the minimum of fuss. Lacks the dynamism to be a CSL winner, but plenty reliable enough for a side with top-half aspirations – everyone needs their water carriers.
Ground: Hongkou Football Stadium, Hongkou District, Shanghai
Capacity: 35,000 (26,000 for football)
Honours: Chinese top-tier league champions: 1995
Chinese top-tier league runners-up: 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008
Chinese FA Cup winners: 1998
Chinese FA Cup runners up: 1995, 1997, 2015