Even to seasoned correspondents, the lower reaches of the Chinese football league system can have an air of mystery about them.
With the China League One season kicking off on March 15, Wild East Football delves into this under publicized division with what is most likely a first on the English internet – an interview with several fans of League One sides.
Generously giving their time to Wild East Football are Vincent Li a fan of Shenzhen Ruby, Jack Xu a fan of Beijing Baxy, Chao Liu a fan of Wuhan Zall and Alex Li a fan of Shenyang Zhongze. Recent signings, expectancies for the season, the price of a good Chinese player, name changes and Beijing’s need for a derby match are the topics on the League One agenda.
Thank you gentlemen for giving your time to Wild East Football, let’s start with your thoughts on your respective teams in the transfer market?
Vincent Li, Shenzhen Ruby fan: Not all the Chinese clubs are that rich like Guangzhou Evergrande or Beijing Guoan, especially in League One, and Shenzhen is one club in financial difficulty. The latest news says Babacar has come back and another Brazillian forward will join the team, which would be very helpful to us but some of our top players left in summer. We have to face the reality of what the club can do we have no choice.
Alex Li, Shenyang Zhongze fan: I’m pleased with Zhongze’s work in the transfer market. We grabbed some young talent and some strikers which we needed, if we could acquire some big names who were born in Shenyang that will be amazing.
Jack Xu, Beijing Baxy fan: It seemed that we would probably have a great season in 2014 knowing that some good players would come, every fan of Beijing Baxy was very happy. However, things changed and it seemed those players would not come. As a fan of Baxy, I will be always be with the club and we are still a young club in the league.
Chao Liu, Wuhan Zall fan: Not really, only two new players so far. Danilo Peinado from Beijing Institute of Technology who scored 16 last season. He seems like a reliable striker for the new season, because no one scored more than 10 goals for Wuhan last year. Another one is Song Zhiwei from Hangzhou Greentown but I have never watched him play. Only one foreign player stayed from last season, defender Jacques Faty.
Mei Fang went to Guangzhou Evergrande on a free transfer and he is a huge loss for Wuhan. He is a good player and our captain at such a young age, he is also a very strong person mentally. Not many young players are able to take the responsibility as a team leader, but he did it very well. He was the youngest captain in Super league last year, I wish him all the best in future.
Who is your sides most important player at present?
Alex Li: In League One I believe only a foreign player would be a star player. Zoran Rendulić is the star and is key to Shenyang. A solid defense is important to a successful team.
Vincent Li: For Shenzhen, Babacar Gueye no doubt, he is the best striker in division.
Jack Xu: Baxy have some good experienced and young players and we are still looking forward to the new foreign player, I hope one of them could pop out as the “star player”.
Chao Liu: Wuhan number 20 Li Hang was an average midfield player in Super League, but will be a star in League One. Also number 8, Yao Hanlin, he was injured too much last season, I hope he will be better this year.
Alex, Shenyang have made some good signings with Yang Jun and Ni Bo from Evergrande and Yang Zi from Hangzhou, are you impressed with those?
Alex Li: Definitely. Grabbing some CSL-quality players impressed me a lot, those transfers show that we are serious about getting promotion.
Jack, Beijing Baxy signed big players last season like Ryan Griffiths (now departed) and Steve Makinwa, do you think they are targeting promotion in the future?
Jack Xu: Signing Ryan and Makinwa does bring a promotion feeling to our club. However, I think the most important thing is to expect the foreign players to help the Chinese players and the team to grow and win.
Vincent, an odd one for you, Babacar was rumored to be missing, what is going on there?
Vincent Li: We were all worried about Babacar going missing. We were very happy to see him back before the season starts. It is said that there was a payment issue with Babacar but it seems like it is fixed now.
How can your team improve?
Jack Xu: I think our head coach (Goran Tomic) is young, passionate and professional. This year he will be more familiar with this league and I think if we could buy some experienced players in some key positions then that’s more important in this league is the foreign player.
Vincent Li: I don’t think Shenzhen will get any titles in 2014 because we do not have a strong squad. Teamwork is a tradition when playing for Shenzhen and I would be very happy to see good football in the matches, results are second.
Chao Liu: Wuhan a good right back and a playmaker in midfield.
Alex Li: I believe in (Shenyang manager) Li Jinyu, in the second half of the last campaign we showed we are a good side in this league. We grabbed the players we need this winter and after a full pre-season training under Li Jinyu I believe we will do better job this year.
As a follower of lower league football, what do each of you think of the foreign players coming to China now?
Vincent Li: They are improving the level of competition in the Chinese league. They have mostly experienced advanced football in other countries that might help Chinese football. Some foreign players like (former Poland international) Marek Zajac stay in China and are doing good work with our teenagers. Nowadays the foreign players in China are higher level and let-down players are fewer which would attract more people to watch games in China.
Chao Liu: Much better quality players are coming in now compared to years ago. Good Chinese players are very very very over priced; you can spend less money and buy a better player from overseas.
Alex Li: Money is the reason why more and more huge names come to China. I also believe that the CSL’s match quality is much better than it used to be. Foreign players make the matches in CSL more enjoyable and make Chinese football more competitive in the ACL.
Jack Xu: I think with Lippi and Conca’s success at Guangzhou Evergrande, especially their AFC champion cup win, more and more people are coming back to watch soccer and more and more big companies are interested in investing in soccer. Because of that, better foreign players will come to play.
Chao Liu, Wuhan have cleared out many good players since relegation, are they a good enough team to be promoted?
Chao Liu: We are still as good as the team in 2012, we did it in 2012 and we can do it again. But this team is definitely far from good enough to play in the CSL. In my opinion, promotion is easier than not getting relegated.
Jack, how do you choose to be a Beijing Baxy fan instead of supporting Guoan?
Jack Xu: I’m a graduate of Beijing Sports University, majoring in sports science. Soccer is always my first love and I do enjoy watching good teams, including Beijing Guoan. Last season, I got a chance to have an internship at Baxy and I did a whole season there, during which I’ve built strong emotional connections to the club. This year, I’m currently on an exchange program in Milan but I’m sure with everyone’s good work Beijing Baxy will get promoted to the CSL soon.
Do you think Beijing need’s two teams in the CSL?
Jack Xu: You can see almost every big international city all over the world has their own derby. So definitely, Beijing needs a competitive derby match and I hope it happens between Beijing Baxy and Beijing Guoan soon.
Alex, Shenyang have changed their name again, as a Chinese fan are you used to this?
Alex Li: I am fine with name changes as long as the club stays here in Shenyang. Pete you know that we almost lost this team to other city so I am just happy there is a club in my hometown. If Zhongze could run the club for a long time, I hope they don’t change the name when the club culture is established. A name change for a young club like Zhongze is fine but for a club with a strong culture like Shanghai Shenhua, a name change is not acceptable.
What do you think the target is for your team in 2014?
Vincent Li: Not many people think that Shenzhen could get promotion in 2014, we have a new coach and lost some important players. Players might lack of motivation because of the financial difficulty and Shenzhen has not got a strong squad for promotion. Fifth or sixth is the bottom line to the supporters according to the past ranking.
Alex Li: Top half finish would be a realistic goal for Shenyang Zhongze, I just hope the club could do the job step by step and not rush to splash money to get promotion. The team list does not look like we could settle in the CSL so I hope Zhongze could set up a strong squad in next two years gradually.
Jack Xu: I think the realistic target for Baxy this season is to stay in this league and try to get some good results.
Chao Liu: Top two, the whole environment in League One is bad and Wuhan need go back to the CSL.
To follow the thoughts of these China League One fans, Wild East Football encourages you to follow their accounts on Twitter and Weibo below.
An early list of China League One fixtures can be found here in Chinese.
Beijing-based Peter Davis has followed Chinese football since 2008 and is a regular contributor to Wild East Football. He can be found on Twitter and Weibo at @peteydavis