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Pub Talk: Three strikes Manzano

Discussion continues in the pub with week with Shanghai Ultra and Bcheng smug/feeling silly about predictions made last week, and mulling over the latest round of ACL games – everyone is still in with a shout, including Guizhou, surprisingly. Attendances in the far-apart opponents ACL are looked at – China leading the way by a clear distance but why? The pair investigate. The travelling theme continues with Harbin’s forced away run looked at. The dynamic duo also look at Guoan’s new boss and his odd contract – could he be facing the chop already? That and all the interesting moments from last week and the forthcoming action this weekend is as always on the agenda. Place your orders at the bar please!

B: We are back in the pub, though I’ve been hiding in the corner after last week’s overconfidence. Perhaps I should turn the focus to Guangzhou Evergrande and another loss, albeit in the ACL.

S: Yeah, there have been some surprise results all round so far in the CSL (although I did try to warn you!), and these past couple of days in the ACL as well. Jeonbuk are a real bogey outfit for Evergrande.

B: Evergrande’s done pretty well against them previously, though it’s always hard going on the road in Asia (as Guoan found out as well).

S: A bit of a reversal in fortunes this week for all China’s teams, what with Shandong getting a pasting and Guizhou winning.

B: We’re past the halfway point now, its good to see with 2 matches left, all four Chinese sides still have a real chance of getting out of the group stage.

S: Yeah it seems pretty much everyone is in contention with two games left, that makes for a good spectacle. The CSLs teams have made quite an impact this season so far even if the last round saw some defeats. But in the stands, the attendances are mainly very disappointing… except for Chinese clubs. That’s very interesting.

B: It’s been that way for a number of years, I think the ACL is hoping and praying every year that China has four clubs in the competition and wishing for even more to get through to the knockout stage, because at least in “East Asia”, its the Chinese clubs that bring in the dough with attendance and television interest.

S: Yeah that’s right. I know China likes to compare itself internationally which may explain things some way, but China deserves respect for filling the stands come what may. I saw the Jeonbuk – Evergrande game had nearly 19,000, which is big for a game in Korea, but some of the attendances elsewhere are pitiful, especially in Australia, disappointing especially considering they will host the next Asian Cup in January next year.

B: I get what you’re saying, but its hard to single out Australia, the Korean attendances are almost never in 5 digits, so that attendance is huge.

S: I wonder if Evergrande being the champions and having a relatively glamorous image now, got more bums on seats in Korea? You’re right though, Australia are by no means the only culprits, in fact Japan isn’t that much better although I think it depends more on which clubs make it whereas Korean attendances are almost always very poor.

B: I think there’s definitely a Evergrande factor involved. There were 10,000 more fans at last night’s match than Jeonbuk’s opening round game. The attendance at Yokohama also doubled when the champions came to town.

S: That’s very interesting, is Evergrande still subsidizing away fans trips overseas?

B: I honestly am not aware of the situation this season, haven’t talked to my contacts down south recently, it would be interesting to know if having achieved their goal, they’re cutting back on spending this seaon.

S: I’ve no idea. Perhaps Biffo might know, he may be planning to have a free holiday. So i think the Shandong game was quite shocking, they were 4-0 down with 5 minutes to go as well. Pressure is on there I think.

B: Most definitely, their form this season has been less than stellar despite their continued spending. They’re undefeated at this point, but they have yet to look all that strong, struggling against Harbin and Liaoning.

S: I predicted Shandong not to do as well this year as last. Again though, still early.

B: Yeah, me too, I think they have a tough run with a manager who hasn’t gotten everyone working together.

S: They’ve spent a ton of cash. What about Guoan’s game? Another dissapointment….

B: Yeah, its painful having dropped points in Australia, that’s always the “easiest” place for Chinese sides to win. It’s always disappointing when you don’t score a penalty.

S: A frustrating evening. So what about the CSL action of the previous round. Evergrande got back on the wagon against Sainty, what a massive crowd there. Do I have an attendance fetish this week?

B: Unfortunately that was one of the only large crowds of the round. It was impressive how Evergrande really got things done and for once did so during the first half, putting the game away early.

S: It’s funny how crowds ebb and flow in the CSL. There often appears to be no obvious reasons for it. Evergrande got back to winnings ways, no surprise really. Sainty, can’t see them doing much this year, unless Damjanović delivers the goods. But I think he’s only scored once so far if I’m not mistaken.

B: He hasn’t had the instant impact that everyone thought he would, another cautionary tale of how it takes foreigners time to adjust. I never expected Sainty to be at the top, so their recent struggles aren’t a surprise. As is the multi match ban for a certain Evergrande player and his gesture,though it has taken awhile…

S: Ah yes, remind us what this is about.

B: Well, Evergrande foreigner Rene Junior [is that his name, can’t remember] offered up a frustrated middle finger salute. In midweek the talk was that the player said he was only scratching or something and that the CSL wasn’t going to punish him. Of course there was massive outrage about this as it once again looked like a double standard that we’ve become used to. However, now it seems he’s going to get the standard 4 match ban.

S: I did see the pictures, but in all honestly I subconsciously thought “oh, someones giving someone the finger again, here comes a mini-shit storm over nothing”

B: Well, I’m with you on the fact its insanity that the finger gets a four match ban, especially in light of some of the things that have failed to garner suspensions. That said, this has been pretty solidly set in stone for the past 3-4 seasons that gestures like this will get you a 4 match suspension and so its keeping with fairness that he’ll get the 4 as well.

S: Yeah man, absolutely agree. Consistency, or lack of, is something we have complained about before. So can’t really complain that much here.

B: Yeah, its unfortunate but consistency is what counts.

S: At least some shenanigans to discuss there if nothing else. So what else is happening B?

B: Well, talking about consistency, we saw Shanghai East Asia go top of the league over the weekend.

S: Yeah, I am very impressed with their attacking unit. Although I’m guessing you don’t think they will remain there that long?

B: I’m going to be as adamant as I was last week and say hell no. Though they’re travelling to Henan this week, so they’ll stay top at least one more week. Granted odd things happen in the CSL, but its really sticking in the knife when you have a referee punished after a match for a goal so far offside that even a monkey would have raised the flag….

S: I can’t see them being near the top at the end of the season either. But on this form making the ACL might just be possible who knows. As for the offside goal, that’s unlucky, because Guoan had a legitimate effort wrongly chalked off for offisde v Shenhua. I am wearing my Mr Reasonable hat today. Does it fit my head well?

B: It’s been a rough few weeks for us up north.

S: It has, I’d be totally beeling if I were you, as we say from where I’m from. I think in general though, neutrals can we quite happy with the start to the season – Evergrande are not on top of the league, everyone is beating everyone (sort of) and all 4 CSL teams still in with a chance of making it past the ACL group stage. That is a decent state of all-round affairs I believe.

B: Right, looks good so far, there’s also been some crazy fun like the R&F 6-2 win. And for fans of a club other than Harbin, they got to be happy about a guaranteed 3 points when they see Yiteng coming to town.

S: Yeah poor old Harbin. Have to feel for them playing so many games on the road at the start. What I did notice which was odd, was that they start the second half of the season with 7 games in a row at home. I know the CSL has this fixed calendar where teams play each other in the same order (barring postponemnts) in the second half, but it just struck me as a little odd, not sure how Harbin feel about that.

B: Yeah, I guess that evens things out in a way. I was reading something interesting, an interview with Carlo Cudicini, who is now in the MLS, he was saying how you often see these surprising results in the US, then look at who was playing who and you realize it’s because of the travel distances. I found it really interesting because I think the same thing happens in China, you have these great distances which you don’t have in Europe.

S: That is interesting about travel distances. It’s easy to forget when looking at European football that for the most part teams don’t have to travel that far and that certain helps develop rivalries. Nanjing is considered to be a derby of sorts for Shenhua, but its something like 150 miles, which compared with Scotland, well, it’s just funny really, I think all of the teams in Dunfermline’s division are closer than 100 miles and none are considered derbies.

B: Yes, and I think when talking about Harbin, most of their matches involve 2-4 hour flights, it has to wear on them. I wonder if they even bother going back to Harbin or have set up training camp somewhere like Shanghai

S: Yeah I think it would make sense for the CSL to arrange for them to play all their games in Shanghai and Guangzhou consecutively and set up a base for a couple of weeks. If they wanted that, it would make sense, cut travelling costs and ease travel fatigue on the players.

B: Anything else on last week or are we set to move onto this week’s action?

S: Let’s look ahead shall we. No standout games this weekend I don’t think. East Asia’s visit to Henan catches my attention, let’s see if they can win “easy” games as well as harder ones.

B: I would tend to disagree with that assessment, I think there are two matches that really jump out at me as games that before the season, we thought would really mean something. Both involve Guangzhou sides, with Evergrande hosting Dalian and R&F travelling to Beijing. I think both of these matches are real tests for the visitors, but if these sides want ACL spots, these are the kind of road matches they need to win.

S: Those games are certainly worth talking about. How do you see them unfolding?

B: Well, once again it just looks like Dalian is going to disappoint, they spent a shitload of money last offseason and are just mediocre at best. I can’t see them travelling to Tianhe and getting a result, especially in light of their form so far.
R&F are a different story, they are off to a pretty good start and seem to be scoring at will, 9 goals in their last two matches, Guoan have been struggling as of late so the visitors have a chance, but they’ve always struggled at Gongti and I see Guoan pulling this out 1-0 or 2-1. Guoan manager Manzano’s contract has a clause that if he loses three in a row, the club can automatically fire him without needing to pay any kind of compensation, I don’t know if that just points to league matches or all competitions, but they are on a two match losing streak in all competitions.

S: Dalian made some shrewd buys, particularly the Swedish defender Backman and Meneghel from Qingdao who impressed me last year. You’d think with their Chinese talent they’d be able to make a decent challenge, but they’ve started not so well. R&F are actually to my mind a very similar side to Aerbin, they put some money in but never quite seem to get it together, they are a very unpredictable team.

B: I think R&F are slightly better, but its definitely a valid comparison. Both sides look to be permanently stuck in the muck and mire of midtable mediocrity.

S: That’s an interesting clause in Manzano’s contract. Well, interesting really isn’t the right word, I’d say any coach would be a madman to agree to it. Do you think it’s true?

B: I do think so, and I think it was partly why Guoan struggled to find a manager, there were some very strict clauses in the contract, but it works both ways, with bonuses and stuff for victories as well.

S: So if Guoan lose again, he could be out? That’s surely not the right thing to do so early in the season.

B: I don’t think they’ll activate the clause, but its something a lot of fans are bringing up, especially because after R&F, Guoan have a trip to Guizhou and then a match at home against Shandong on the horizon, so its tough going right now.

S: I’d hate to be in Manzano’s shoes. Talk about a lack of job security! I think it’s a terrible idea, how’s he supposed to focus on the task at hand? Even if he doesn’t lose 3 in a row, it’s always going to be at the back of his mind, you have to wonder how committed he is to Beijing and being in China in general agreeing to terms which could see him leave so abruptly.

B: Fair point, but it depends on your outlook, I think if you’re confident in your team and your abilities, its just a challenge to take up. I would think its more centered on CSL matches and wouldn’t include the ACL. Let’s be honest, there’s no reason Guoan should lose three in a row in the CSL.

S: I can’t see Guoan losing three games in a row either. But still, shit happens.

B: Don’t remind me, things like offside goals count….

S: That’s what I’m saying man. And that’s why it’s very hard to find a good coach who will agree to such clauses. I mean, I’m always banging on about more continuity being needed in the CSL… this kind of arrangement just ignores this concept from the outset.

B: See again, I don’t think it necessarily does, it puts a challenge up front to the coach and it makes things clear. Guoan has their expectations for a manager, finish in the top 4, get out of the ACL group stage, and make the final of the CFA Cup, as a top team, this is what they expect from the manager and if he doesn’t fulfill any of these, he’s gone. If he fulfills them, there are bonuses involved and what not, it makes things black and white.

S: I can see how it could work, obviously Manzano feels there’s a good chance it will benefit both parties otherwise he wouldn’t have signed it of course. So, what else this weekend?

B: I think that’s about it for me…

S: Yeah me also. Let’s drink these beers up.

B: Cheers mate, great to meet up once again. Here’s wishing everyone a good holiday

S: I’ll drink that that. Thanks for joining us everyone.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Damian Jones

    06/04/2014 at 22:28

    A bit of a slight there towards Asia’s best average home and away support. It’s a shame I didn’t know about all these “free” ACL special offers instead of forking out to go to Korea and being unable to afford the other packages.
    The Cantonese are known for being good travellers and, of course, the support is swelled by the large number of Guangdong expats ……. everywhere. Most Asian teams are only able to take a handful of fans to games, whilst Guangzhou are able to make quite a presence (Shandong also had a decent showing at Pohong). Respect lads.

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