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Pub Talk: Canton shocker and China’s fluffy group of death

The boys are back in town, and its a bumper pub session this week with heavyweight topics stepping into the ring to be intellectually pummelled by the combined might of . After the weigh-in Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra pull no punches as Guangzhou E’s shocking defeat in the last CSL round is covered – blip or not? The pair enquire. The China derby in the previous round allows both pubbers to indulge in their favourite sides – their contrasting fortunes offering much to spar over. Guoan look like a real contender, but Shenhua are still fighting themselves, Ultra enters the fray and launches of a flurry of blows against his own club. Elsewhere, the pair end today’s bout falling about laughing in the ring at the Chinese media’s description of the Asian Cup draw as a ‘group of death.” The bell has rung, that’s it today, read on for your knockout blow.

S: It’s a nice day outside, we missed the pub last week and seems quite a lot has happened since then.

B: Yeah, we’ve only been through a single round of the CSL, but there’s much to talk about from that round.

S: Definitely. Let’s get straight to it – a certain game in the deep south. What a shocking result. What do you make of it?

B: It’s hard to say, I know one of our contributors saw Changchun as a club that would surprise many, while I thought they were relegation bound. It’s too early to say, but for whatever reason Evergrande was flat and went down 3-1.

S: Yeah it is of course very early in the CSL, but the result for me was surprising because Evergrande have done very well in the ACL so far. I suspect there is complacency creeping in. Plus according to Biffo, Diamanti seems to be more “individualistic” that Conca…

B: It could be that he just needs more time to gel with his teammates. He’s put in some decent performances so far.
As to the entire side, Evergrande showed weakness against their Aussie ACL opponents, before putting in an impressive comeback. They opened up the CSL campaign against 2 of the promoted sides (conspiracy theories abound there), and maybe they just figured they’d cruise past Changchun as well and so were sleep walking.

S: I know this is a can of worms, but I couldn’t help but notice that Evergrande had the easiest start possible, a nice reward for the ACL winners so they can get the best start possible in defending the trophy?

B: Well, many have always suspected a very close relationship between Evergrande and the CFA…..

S: Hah hah. Yeah. We all know there’s dodgy business going on in the game here, so, shit sticks even if its wrong.

B: Or not so wrong in the sense of changing league rules for one side, but anyways, back to topic. We’ve talked before about how the dominance had to stop at some point, are we seeing that point now?

S: I don’t think so. I think it’s a blip, and Lippi will kick the team’s arses back into shape and they won’t be so slack in future. But it does show Evergrande are not invincible and that has to give other sides encouragement.

B: It should be noted they’re going away at Jiangsu this week, could they lose two in a row, possibly for the first time they’ve ever been in the CSL (I’m not 100% sure about that, but can’t remember them losing twice in a row before).

S: I am pretty sure they haven’t. Where is ‘s Statto? Seems we don’t have one! Apply within please. Sainty have a good record against Evergrande, so who knows. It’s going to take more than a couple of bad early season results for me to revise my prediction that Evergrande will be champs again however.

B: I don’t think anyone’s going to start seriously betting against Evergrande yet, but there’s beginning to be some reasons to doubt. I think Jiangsu will put up a good fight and it will be a match worth watching. If Jiangsu comes up with a result though, it may be time to start rethinking the situation.

S: Another defeat will certainly see a lot of questions being asked. My prediction though is Evergrande will take out their frustration on Sainty. So what else happened whilst we were gone?

B: Well, Guoan continued trucking on with a solid result in the China derby, seems there’s some talk that Guoan is a serious side this season, with both Dalian manager Ma Lin and former star Xu Liang singing their praises as of late.

S: Yes. As I wrote in my report though, Guoan were not at all tested by Shenhua, who put in an even more miserable performance than usual at Gongti. But your guys are top of the league on merit. How long can they stay there?

B: I hope it will stay that way until November and I’m optimistic that they’ll seriously contend this year, but like you, I wouldn’t put my own money on anything other than Evergrande as champions.

S: At least the league has gotten off to an exciting start. I thought Guoan looked decent against Shenhua, but our side has become a total joke, the selection policy I have been philosophical about and wondered if it was down to Zhu Jun. Now he’s gone, everything is just as fucked up as before.

B: Yeah, Shenhua aren’t exactly inspiring confidence right now, but I think with the side that’s in place, that is to be expected, it was always going to be hard.

S: Sure, but it doens’t help when guys like Wang Changqing, who isn’t even a good right midfielder, gets picked at right-back, when, for the first time in two years, we actually have a proper right-back now, Li Wenbo. But of course, he was at left-back. And our best and most consistent left-back benched, and Wang still at right-back! Fuck! Shen Xiangfu, you are a fucking joke, fuck off.

B: I think that’s erm…slightly harsh.

S: Putting our best leftback on the bench, putting our new right back at left back, and putting a right-midfielder who is shite at right-back. Fucks sake. Someone’s got some serious guanxi going on there. Plus Wang was at fault for one of the goals, plus the offisde goal which should have stood.

B: He’s dealing with a very weak side and the selection might not be great, but fuck me, if your savior is Li Wenbo, you have serious problems. Wang hasn’t been great, but he’s done okay at right back so far. I think the issues in the side go deeper than selection right now, even if everyone is in position, it’s still a crap side.

S: I agree the side is seriously lacking. But that’s why you have to throw out whatever favours or what exist which are responsible for guys like Wang getting a game no matter what. We have Xiong Fei, granted he’s usually in the reserves, but he is at least a right back. Wang gets picked no matter what, yet he was shite against Hangzhou and shite against Guoan, no-one can tell me that Shenhua’s team is being picked purely on a footballing basis. Fuck, Shen even put Jiang Kun on against Hangzhou, that guy has been past it for 3 seasons now. Yet on the same bench was Chen Poliang, Taiwanese national captain. Sure he’s probably no great shakes but how the fuck can Jiang Kun get on in front of him? It’s absolutely beyond a joke, I’m not prepared to overlook this anymore, it’s became so obvious at least with Jiang Kun. Wang Changqing, well maybe, just maybe he’s there for footballing reasons. Jiang Kun, absolutely no.

B: But then what’s the reason? No reason to suspect a really strong relationship between Shen and Jiang. Is it the Shanghai FA? Some people from the old administration?

S: I have no idea, but anyone who says Jiang Kun deserves a place in Shenhua’s first team squad knows nothing about football. I have to apologise for ranting on this, but I’ve watched this go on for such a long time, I can’t take it anymore.

B: Haha, if you say so…

S: We sit here every week talking about how to improve Chinese football. And how there are somethings which can be controlled and some things not. Jiang Kun is an example of an unprofessional system which does no have to exist.

B: So…apart from Jiang Kun, what else happened of interest this past weekend? I think it’s apparent from what Ma said about Guoan, there’s Guoan and Evergrande and then everyone else…Seems Shandong is struggling a bit.

S: Shandong I thought they might struggle. But the are coming together a bit more I think and are also top of the ACL group right now. But the top 3 already look stronger than the rest.

B: You want to talk about a team that may need to rethink managers, Shandong is at the top of the list, there’s a side with a ton of talent that just seems wasted in the hands of their manager.

S: Too early to say that I think, but the pressure will be on if Shandong don’t push Evergrande.

B: Most definitely, the club put a lot of money into the side and they barely got past Harbin in the home opener, then followed it up with a disappointing draw at Tianjin.

S: They are doing good in the ACL though… let’s see.

B: What else caught your interest from this past weekend?

S: It goes back to the weekend we missed, but I’m interested to hear what you think about Shenhua’s protests, I know you’re keen on fan culture.

B: It made me happy to see it after the events (or lack thereof) in Jinshan. I think it was wise, but obviously very inflammatory to use Xi’s words in their argument.

S: Yeah I was impressed and I think in the context of this being China, it was really encouraging to see so many people who care about something which is immaterial come together to defend it. It was quite a moving experience in many ways, and I think I’ll always remember the countdown and chanting after 19 minutes, it was something I hadn’t experienced before.

B: It seems like it may have had an effect.

S: Yes. It’s clear Greenland didn’t want to keep the Shenhua name, branding the whole stadium with Greenland FC everywhere, rebranding their website, vandalizing the club badge into some bizarre hybrid featuring a piece of broccoli. Yet with the mayor being at Greenland’s first game, and CEO Zhang Yuliang, it’s fair to say the protest caused a lot of embarassment and the fans forced the club to pay attention to them. That is something which seldoms happens in China as we know.

B: What was the attendance like for that opening match? Was the protest obvious from the numbers?

S: The attendance I think was 22,000 which by Shenhua’s standards is high – but it did include 3,000 Greenland company stooges – who had of course all gone before the final whistle. The protest involved all the north and south terrace, plus a fans group on the halfway line in the west stand. It made for a very obvious and awkward quietness at first, the noise afterwards was quite something. This video is worth a watch, you get the last 5 seconds of the countdown

B: Very interesting, its good to see such unity between the fans. I do love Greenland’s new banner, sort of mirroring a certain rival’s slogan, I can’t imagine the fans are happy about that.

S: Yes I heard about that but I didn’t catch it in all the other chaos going on, what is it exactly?

B: something like 绿地一直争第一,不狂不疯不是申花 I’d have to look up the exact wording, but it was something like that.

S: Yeah I saw it but I didn’t catch the meaning. It did look familiar as you say. I’ll investigate that. As for Greenland’s promise to put Shenhua back in the name, I have to admit I was quite surprised. I heard the fans have demanded a timetable for when the name will actually be reverted. They’re very sceptical about Greenland. I can’t blame them. But Greenland obviously can’t bear another embarassing face-losing spectacle like the one the other week. Some fans think Greenland are just using a delaying tactic to hope the fans calm down and forget about the name. If that is the case, it’s a very silly approach – if they finally do not revert the name, its only going to lead to more bitter and intense protests down the line.

B: Beijing’s slogan is of course 永远争第一. Granted, it just means something like “to be number one” (to steal a Chinese company’s slogan), but there’s a lot of ways to say that and it seems odd to use one relatively similar to a rival.

S: Yeah Greenland have made a dogs dinner of it all. Well, I suppose that’s enough about that, what’s going down in the CSL this weekend then?

B: Well, we already talked a little about the big Evergrande-Jiangsu clash, I think beyond that you have a somewhat interesting if very early 1 2 clash between Beijing and Shanghai East Asia. Then of course you have Shen hosting his former club Henan.
Outside of that, its just interesting to watch some of these early matches and see exactly how these teams fall.

S: I think East Asia v Guoan is a good pick, two teams on form, we will get to see just how good East Asia are. I was actually at the other Shanghai derby last week to take in East Asia v Shenxin. East Asia looked good, but Shenxin were absolutely awful. Guoan will be a real test for the men from Xujiahui.

B: Yes, it is an away trip for Guoan, but I can’t see them struggling against this side. It’s interesting that the top scoring pair right now is Hysen and Wu Lei.

S: Hysen and McBreen looked to not link up that well in the game I saw them in. Wu Lei however really does stand out as a Chinese attacker. Then again, that is not so difficult. I’ll be tuning in to this game I think.

B: Wu’s always interesting to watch, but again, I can’t see Guoan not coming away with all three points.

S: Famous last words mate!

B: We have to make predictions sometimes, eh? Though again, while East Asia did demolish Shenxin (is it too soon to say I made a bad choice there?), their results haven’t been that great, they’ve given up a goal in each match so far, and they’re about to face a serious side for the first time this season. Guoan, for their part, haven’t given up a goal yet.

S: I’m glad to see you putting your money where your mouth is, in a manner of speaking. I think it’s a tough one to call, if it was at Gongti I’d bet heavily on Guoan, away from home, well, I wouldn’t be that confident. But it’s a really interesting game between the two early form teams.

B: I’m surprised by that. I know Guoan has a habit of giving up points on the road down the years, but this seems like a different side and if they were to give up points to a side like East Asia, it would be a serious disappointment and send signals that they aren’t quite ready for primetime. For the time being, in my mind the number of Guoan away matches I’m scared of can pretty much be counted on a single hand, East Asia isn’t among them.

S: That’s all fair enough, but I’m just looking at recent form. Plus Guoan did not play particularly well against a really poor Shenhua… lets see what happens.

B: Yeah, this may just be me thinking too highly of Guoan right now, we shall see which one of us is right.

S: Yeah you say it seems like a different Guoan side… but it’s really very early. I always find it hard to say much at this time of year with any confidence for that very reason

B: Yeah, but we’ve already talked about the vast difference in quality between the top two and everyone else. I mean that to be Evergrande and Guoan and everyone else. Take away that drubbing of Shenxin and East Asia just looks like what they are, an average side that will finish somewhere midtable.

S: Maybe, but for me it’s all about Evergrande, then Guoan are on the second plane along with Shandong, after that there’s a gap.

B: I think that’s probably right…I guess we’ll see how big the gap really is tomorrow. Any other matches to discuss?

S: I have to say looking around the rest of the fixtures, we’ve already discussed the most interesting games. Shandong v Liaoning looks interesting, it’s a decent test for the guys in orange.

B: Yeah, I’m interested to see how Shandong do as well and this will be a reasonable test for them, a bit of a rivalry over the years there too. As I said, outside of the two matches we’ve spent a lot of time with, its hard to say much about the others beyond it will be interesting to watch and see, you don’t really know how good these sides are or what to think.

S: That’s right, the fixture card is another bread-and-butter one, try as we might in the pub to make gold out of mud, I’d be struggling to say anything particularly meaningful.

B: Right, though I’m sure whatever the results are will give us plenty to talk about next week.

S: I do hear some interesting news just in – seems the club broadcast rules have mysteriously changed rather abruptly to allow the use of up to six characters in the club’s names . Hmmm. Well glad we didn’t go saying Greenland everywhere on the site only to realise we could still say Shenhua….

B: This is getting loathsome, boring!

S: I know I know I know. It’s just funny how rules can change so quickly…

B: It’s sort of pointless, but I guess it’s sort of a win for Shenhua fans.

S: Yeah definitely. Well we’d better drink up soon before I bore everyone to death. Sorry about that everyone.

B: So the Asian Cup draw came out yesterday and despite some in the Chinese media calling this the Group of Death, I think China got off very easy.

S: Yeah, a “group of death” lacking Australia, South Korea or Japan. What exactly were they expecting? Saudi, Uzbekistan and North Korea look pretty medicore to me.

B: Exactly! China’s already very familiar with Saudi Arabia after having them in qualifying, they’ve struggled a little against Uzbekistan in recent years, but that’s not an unbeatable side and while North Korea did make it to the 2010 World Cup, they aren’t in this year’s and, well, they aren’t among the top Asian sides you mentioned

S: I find it quite funny really. China are in in the only group which doesn’t feature a side who will goto Brazil this summer. What a puzzling conclusion for the media to arrive at.

B: This will never end if we go into the oddities of the Chinese media…

S: No. But actually, China’s group appears to be the easiest if you ask me.

B: It’s definitely one that they have a chance of getting out of, though I don’t think I’d bet on it. A better way to put it is, I see them coming away with 4-5 points in the group, it will be a valient effort…

S: 5 points you’d think would be enough to see them through to the next round. They have a decent chance if Perrin and knock them into shape by the time the tournament comes round.

B: There’s plenty of time between now and then, let’s hope his research has him picking out the top players instead of the randomness its seemed like at times.

S: He has his work cut out.

B: Indeed he does, well cheers to that, let’s hope he can pull it off.

S: Yeah there is time to turn things around. Shall we drink up?

B: Let’s do so and get out of here

S: Cheers to that, good to drink again.

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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