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Pub Talk: Diamanti’s ACL debut and the CSL name shame

After a long winter hiatus, the pub opens its doors once again. Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra however are a bit busy dusting the place off after many months of disuse, so there’s only time for one pint and to discuss this week’s ACL fixtures, Italians at Evergrande, and the shame of Shenhua’s name change. What does it all mean? The Pubsters explain. This week the drinkers ease themselves gently back into the groove, but expect a full-on drinking session next week on the eve of the start of the season proper. Cheers all, the pub is back in town!

Bcheng: Mate, when was the last time we’ve seen each other? It’s been months since we last got together in the pub and there’s never a shortage of things to talk about, especially with matchday 1 of the ACL now done and dusted.

Shanghai Ultra: Yeah I’m dusting these cobwebs from the barstools. I just opened my wallet and a moth flew out.

B: Well, most of all I’m rejoicing that we in Beijing can finally breathe again, amazingly we are blessed with better air than Shanghai or Guangzhou today, perhaps the only time this year that will happen.

S: I don’t know, the air has been pretty crappy in Shanghai these past few months, especially around Hongkou…

B: I think we can get to that in a bit, of course Guangzhou is always on my mind and I must admit I was gloating a little early last night, I didn’t see the wrecking ball that was Alessandro Diamanti coming.

S: That was quite funny – but to be fair you did write in your ACL preview that you expected Evergrande to make a statement at the start of their continental campaign – they certainly did that, if not quite in the manner anyone expected.

B: Indeed, four second half goals was a strong statement of intent, especially with how good Diamanti looked, making a lot of people forget about Conca. He’s going to be a very different player, but it looks like they’ll get a big contribution from him.

S: Yeah, and I think Melbourne aren’t any pushovers – they had to go through preliminary qualifiers, but that’s misleading as I think the A-League’s direct qualifier allocation was cut. So it’s a strong result indeed for Evergrande. Diamanti, well, he’s still playing for Italy, I think there’s not much I can add to that.

B: I know we talked a lot last season about Evergrande getting off to a slow start in matches, I wonder if that tendency is going to continue in 2014.

S: Yeah good point. I can imagine Lippi would have given them a berating at half-time. In the opening stages of the season there will be a bit of rustiness for them to shake off as well as blending in new players, so we can expect that trend to continue short term anyways.

B: None of the other Chinese sides faired as well as Evergrande did, though of the rest, Beijing Guoan have to be happiest earning a road point against the repeat J-League champions, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

S: That was a solid effort, any early observations to make? Ha looks like he got his Guoan career off to a good staart.

B: True, I think there was a lot of excitement among Guoan fans about the pickup of FC Seoul’s captain, Ha Dae-sung, that he scored in his first start helps build that excitement even more. After the match I’m trying to tamper my expectations, but I’m optimistic about Guoan’s side this year. Some of the depth issues have been addressed and there have been more than a few good moves in the transfer market. I like the structure of the team I’ve seen in the past two matches and if it was Manzano’s strategy that we saw on Tuesday night, I liked what I saw.

S: What was his basic tactical approach?

B: He kept what Xie Feng started, using Zhang Chengdong on the right wing, something that I think is really going to work this year. He put out a more defensive lineup looking to poach a goal on the counter attack, utilizing Joffre Guerron’s speed and it seemed to work, the team was very organized especially considering the lack of time the manager has had with his side.

S: That sounds very positive, its not easy to get things looking good right off the bat anywhere, least of all in China. So what about Shandong, they struggled against Buririam, conceding a very late goal. They’ve spent a lot of money, a disappointing start for the men in orange.

B: You hit the nail on the head, as organized as Beijing looked, Shandong was in complete disarray, Cuca seemed to have struggled figuring out the best way to use his squad.

S: They need some time to get things right, plus playing in the ACL is tougher than a bog standard CSL game, so there is room for excuses. Early days though, I always feel there’s only so much you can take from the opening stages of any competition.

B: I agree to a point. The first match is always going to be hard, but you aren’t going to get as much time to prepare for any other match. Cuca’s choice of players and how he had them line up just leaves a lot of questions. Any Chinese side knows not to underestimate Buriram by now, but they are probably the weakest side in that group and coming away with a draw at home is seriously going to damage their chances.

S: Buriram are certainly no pushovers. And I can say that it already looks like business as usual for Evergrande.

B: I don’t want to blame Cuca for this as its likely an error on the AFC’s part, but the official match report has the starting 11 in a 3-2-5, with 5 forwards on the sub bench as well.

S: That’s a very odd state of affairs, I’m guessing there’s surely some communication problem there somewhere.

B: Definitely. Despite finishing second last year, we saw Shandong struggle a lot, perhaps its harsh blaming the organization issues on Cuca as there were issues under Antic as well. I just think of the four Chinese sides, Shandong were the most disappointing.

S: Yeah looks that way. Speaking of other sides, Guizhou came in for a lot of criticism for “roughhouse” play, but I must admit I didn’t see their match.

B: I had an eye on it for the last 45 minutes and I thought the criticism was a little unfair. Its been pretty common the past few years for Chinese sides to face this type of criticism from Japanese and Korean sides, but never from the Aussies. I haven’t really watched either of those leagues, so I don’t know if its true or not, but maybe there is less physicality as a whole in those leagues.

S: I think the CSL has a serious diving problem, but rough play, I don’t think it’s something I’ve noticed.

B: I think we’ve addressed the ACL matches pretty well, is it time to go back to the bad air around Hongkou?

S: It is, but be warned, you’d best don your gasmask, there’s a horrible reek around here and it’s not chou dofu.

B: Do tell…

S: Well man. I really don’t know where to begin. There’s so many issues to cover and I feel uncomfortable letting Shenhua get so much pub time when they have not been a serious force in China for quite a while now.

B: Alright, so let me sum up things, Zhu Jun finally let go of his shares, selling to major local real estate developer Greenland, who basically went back on everything they said and have named the team Shanghai Greenland and a redesign of the club’s logo is in the works. All very troubling events that have supporters in Shanghai protesting and those across the country, even in Beijing (including myself), standing with the Shenhua supporters.

S: Ok let’s focus on the name-change first. For the unfamiliar a brief re-cap – Zhu Jun kept the Shenhua name, possibly his only virtue – but Greenland have changed the CLUB name to Shanghai Greenland Football Club, but the team name is now Shanghai Greenland Shenhua team. Frankly I don’t really understand how the team/club names can be different and what it means. But I think its absolutely wrong to remove Shenhua from the club name and Shenhua fans are up in arms about it. Some have turned their back on the club already.

B: It depends on your vantage point, to me the club name is the most important, because that’s the team identity. The team name is just like a sponsorship that can be bought and sold for a few seasons, but that could just be me looking at things with my green glasses. In any case, the disappearance of the Shenhua name is a startling event.

S: It’s a really academic discussion, I can see how some people get lost in it and just say “hey isn’t it still Shenhua really?”. Especially when you compare their naming situation to most other Chinese teams, like Evergrande, or even across town with Dongya (Shanggang, SIPG team name or whatever) But Shenhua had Shenhua in their team name for 20 years. For me this is an absolute black and white issue, it not only wrong and in no-ones interest to change the name except mis-guided fat cats who care nothing of football, but it’s a massive fuck-you to the most important people involved with Shenhua – its long-suffering fans.

B: Right. It’s one thing with these sides who’ve only been around for a short time or who change their entire identity every few years, but Shenhua is one of the few teams in the CSL who’ve avoided doing so. I agree, by doing this (and the badge change, though we’ve yet to see how drastic it will be) its a huge f-you to all those Shenhua fans who’ve been with the team for so many years.

S: It’s like the name of a person or town – you don’t change these things except in a miniscule percentage of cases. A name is the most fundamental component of identity and it is through a name that traditions, history and culture are transmitted and developed. You cannot buy history, but its value is huge. Shenhua’s name change also hurts the heritage of the CSL as a whole. They might have been a problem club for the past few seasons, but that is not significant in the big picture. 20 years is forever in Chinese football, Greenland have just shown that, like most other corporations and business people, they have no understanding of what is really important in anyones life – respect, identity and belonging to a community.

B: Very true, with the loss of Dalian and Shenhua, now outside of Shandong and Beijing, few clubs have maintained their identity for more than a couple years.

S: Time for the CSL to make rules on the names of teams and relocations. It is long overdue. Back to Shenhua, it seems that the Shenhua name lives on in the team name, the fans and most of the Shanghai media will still call them Shenhua I believe. So I don’t think its worth quitting over, as long as no more changes are made. But we haven’t seen the club badge yet. The fans should be consulted over the new design of course, but, as in other places, power and and money always fucks over the people who are supporting the entire show – the fans.

B: I don’t think we’ll see the day when the CSL goes to the extent of making rules about this. I think right now all we, as supporters of the league, can do is make it known that we are standing with Shenhua and hope Greenland comes to its senses.

S: Agree, the CSL isn’t about to do that. It’s been an extremely positive thing seeing so many fans of other clubs join the online protests against the outrageous vandalism of Shenhua’s heritage.

B: As I said, despite the rivalry that exists, on this I stand beside you. I enjoy laughing at Shenhua’s ludicrous moves from time to time, but this hits too close to home, it shows that no name is safe and we have to stand up and make our voices heard.

S: It shows the strength of Chinese fans culture and the mutual respect which exists between the hardcore fans of different clubs. This is not something which always exists elsewhere, its a credit to Chinese football. Considering the countless problems the game has here, I think this is something Chinese football can be very proud of, that this kind of sub-culture exists and different fans of different clubs come together to defend the heritage and culture of the game. It is not only gratifying but vital in making the powers-that-be wake up and realize how fundamental authentic football culture is to developing the overall game.

B: Very, very true. I think on the harmonious, uplifting note its time to bring the first pub of 2014 to a close.

S: I think so. It’s been really good to get back into the pub, and I’m looking forward to a full chat on the new CSL next week.

B: Me too, it will be exciting to see what happens in the transfer market now that there’s less than a few hours before it closes tonight.

S: Yeah there’s going to be a few interesting moves yet, but you know how boring I find all the speculation, I’m really looking forward to the window shutting so we can look at what proper business actually happened.

B: Indeed, until next week, cheers mate!

S: Cheers B!

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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