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Pub Talk: Is Cuca on the way out? And Brazil 2014 CSL represent

Following last week’s pub rotation which saw the Cantonese crew take over the show, it’s back to business as usual as Bcheng and Shanghai Ultra clear away the gnawed dog bones to discuss what’s been doing on this week. Shandong Luneng are in the spotlight, specifically, manager Cucua. The heat is on the Brazillian and your pub pair discuss points of view about what will happen to him. The Canton derby is also covered – was it really a surprise ask you drinking duo? Elsewhere, Guoan are keeping up the pressure, they’re in the mix, as is Wang Dalei and his tearful Hongkou reunion. The World Cup makes its first appearance in the Pub – who is going from China? Your boozing correspondents think who is not going is more interesting. That’s what’s going down this week, join in the comments section if you will.

B: After a week away Shanghai Ultra and I are back in the pub and unlike in last week’s edition, we’re on firm, dry ground.

S: It’s been a wet old week across much of China. Are brighter skies around the corner B?

B: Well here up north its a beautiful day, we even have unusually clean air too…What about down in Shanghai?

S: It’s been raining all week, but as soon as we enter the Pub, the sun breaks out. It’s as if God himself approves of drinking and discussing the CSL. The Lord’s benevolence knows no bounds.

B: Our compatriots down south did a noble job of taking over the pub and the match was pretty exciting as well.

S: I was just about to say, I want to take my hat off to the lads down there, it was a great session which drew me even more into the Canton Derby that, as far as the CSL goes, is definitely one of the more exciting fixtures on the annual card. And it turned out to be as interesting a match as ever.

B: Yeah, a missed penalty, a petulant Muriqui and an upset win for the blue side of Guangzhou.

S: I didn’t see an R&F win coming, having watched them struggle badly against Shenhua the other week. Clearly they missed Hamdallah, who indeed was the scorer of the only goal.

B: Right, I don’t think anyone saw that coming, especially after as Sven said, Evergrande murdered Cerezo Osaka in midweek and looked to finally be hitting stride.

S: Yeah I think Evergrande maybe been struggling a bit adjusting to the squad rotation Lippi is using to keep the team fresh between the CSL and ACL campaigns. Plus R&F are somewhat a bogey team for Evergrande. Since the Canton derby began in 2012, R&F have won three of the five editions so far. Who’d have thought that?

B: Wow, nice stat there, I didn’t realize they actually had the advantage in the series. I think you can chalk up the loss more to an off night than any “struggle”, an Elkeson blown penalty and Muriqui blowing a couple chances that he’d typically score on really made the difference. The great thing is that this certainly opens the league up a little, at least for another few weeks.

S: Yeah I think Evergrande didn’t have fortune on their side. But let’s not dismiss R&F too quickly, they’ve actually lost fewer games than any other team in the CSL now and in Hamdallah have unearthed a quality young foreign striker able to do the business in the CSL. Exciting times at Yuexiushan I think.

B: That’s a good point, R&F got off to a slow start this year, but they know how to find the back of the net, second only to Evergrande with 23 goals already this year.

S: R&F’s direction has been interesting in terms of foreign signings. They’ve got Sven of course in the hotseat, but it’s interesting to note they got rid of a relatively big name in Yakubu and brought in an unknown in Hamdallah ( described him as a “useful signing” in a cautious yet insightful preview piece) . We’ve spoken in the pub in the past about there being no need to sign huge stars to make an impact in the CSL, just to make careful and prudent foreign signings instead. R&F appear to be reaping the benefit this season to far. Can they keep it up though is of course the question.

B: It’s shooting fish in a barrel, it seems this time they got lucky and hit one, they have a tough pair of games coming up, going to Guizhou this week and then hosting Shandong. Despite the derby win, I still don’t think we’re talking about a top side.

S: R&F are a work in progress I think, and yes, not a championship challenging team. They made a lot of changes over the close season, Yakubu’s departure looked a little like the owners were cutting their investment at first but it’s just a changing in signing policy I think as we said. There’s definitely a big element of luck when bringing in foreigners, as you’d expect with an on and off field in China very different to what the majority of players are used to. They’ve also got some domestic players – I’ve heard some very good things about winger Chang Feiya, he’s just 21 and this is his first full season. You heard the name in the Pub first!

B: I’ll take note of that name, he’s got a bit of playing time so far this year. No surprise, but I’m most impressed with their two Beijingers, if Cheng Yuelei keeps it up, he’ll get a call from the national team. Wang Xiaolong has also been a big signing for them this year, not having him in the lineup at Gongti certainly hurt.

S: Yeah Wang played well against Shenhua the other week I did notice. So moving on from Guangzhou, it was quite an exciting round elsewhere in the CSL last week, with a lot of goals and a few surprising results.

B: Yeah, the most surprising had a little of both, Shanghai East Asia absolutely crushed a Guizhou side that obviously has a number of internal issues.

S: That was a really surprising result to me. Especially considering Wu Lei isn’t quite fit and only played the last 25 mins off the bench, and we know how central he is to East Asia. For Guizhou indeed, something is going badly there somewhere.

B: They have the talent to be a top 3 side, but it seems moving Gong Lei into the front office wasn’t enough, Zhu Jiong can’t control the locker room and I think we aren’t that far away from seeing Sun Jihai named player-manager.

S: I’d say that’s a good bet. He seems to be more and more a grumpy old man these days.

B: Things don’t get easy for Guizhou, their next two matches are against the two Guangzhous, we could see this change pretty soon.

S: Yeah and we are not so far off the summer window, changes a plenty this year?

B: By my calculations, the top few sides don’t have a lot of room to make domestic moves and its rare we see big ones at midseason anyways. I do expect we’ll see some big foreign moves, Utaka is pretty much a definite to leave the capital. Also, Lippi dashed the rumors, but Kim Young-gwon may be on his way out at Evergrande as well.

S: Lippi is said to have a clause in his Evergrande contract that is a player is sold without his content, he leaves and his given a huge payoff. Still, Lippi might not want to let Kim go, but he’s in the South Korean squad and a good World Cup may make it impractical for him to remain if big money bids come knocking. I can see a potential CSL record transfer sale fee coming up in the next window.

B: There are lots of rumors about clauses, I doubt Xu and the club would be that stupid. Kim is one of Asia’s top defenders, not just the CSL, at some point bigger leagues are going to come calling.

S: I think its entirely possible Evergrande would have to agree to such a clause to attract a coach of Lippi’s standing to a league like the CSL. Having spent his career in Italy, Lippi will know all about interfering chairmen.

B: Maybe….In any case, I think outside of Guoan looking for a striker, we’re not going to see much happen at the top of the table, what will be interesting are the moves that will be made to avoid the drop and also to get into the fight for third.

S: Yeah I don’t think there’s a lot of roster space left, what’s the story with Utaka?

B: He’s a lethargic, overweight waste of space in the Guoan lineup who is moping around after Stanojevic left the capital.

S: Too much Chuanr?

B: Seems that way, this year his heart just doesn’t seem to be into it and so we’ll have a shiny, new striker when the season resumes in July.

S: So what else of the last round? A last minute penalty saw your lot snatch victory from the jaws of a 0-0 stalemate. That must have been an exciting climax.

B: It certainly was, Liaoning pretty much just gave up any pretense of offense and going for the ball and just decided they would defend, Guoan managed 30 shots, you don’t see that very often, but it took the last one to break the stalemate. After such a valiant defensive effort, it truly was a pity to see it ruined by idiotic defending, but as a Guoan fan I was certainly pleased.

S: It keeps Guoan hot on the heels of Evergrande – support for your title bid even came from Shanghai this week – Fan Zhiyi thinks Guoan are capable of winning the title, so he told the media here.

B: I don’t see why not, especially if they pick up the right striker.

S: That makes Utaka’s replacement all the more vital. Any rumours?

B: Nothing yet, as I think we talked about previously, Guoan said it will likely be someone who is on a World Cup roster.

S: That would certainly be a boost for the CSL, I’ll be interested to find out. Not that we like to indulge in transfer gossip in the Pub, of course.

B: Of course not….Well, you talked earlier about surprising results, Shenhua’s win certainly served as a massive shock.

S: It was a shock indeed, and once again Shandong were very unlucky but have only themselves to blame. Shenhua did play very well however, they have a habit of raising their game against better sides. Cuca must be feeling the heat. Shandong’s only chance of winning anything this year is the CFA cup.

B: Yes, but they are in the killer side of the bracket. Will Cuca make it to the World Cup break?

S: I think he will, if our man Mr Atkins is to be believed in his opinion piece this week . Shandong are an interesting team, they are one of the few CSL clubs which seem to understand the need for continuity, many of their domestic squad members have been with the club for many years. Plus its only been a few months, Shandong aren’t Man United, Cuca should be given at least a season in my opinion. Whether he will or not is another matter of course.

B: Shandong has gone through so much turnover and spent so much money the past two seasons that the lack of results has got to be very frustrating. I think there appears to be a general misunderstanding of tactics and players on Cuca’s part, giving him the whole season is asking for disaster.

S: With Shandong out of the running already, they may aswell let him stay on and develop his relationship with the club. Cuca won the Copa Libertadores with Athletic Minero last season, I think he really ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. China’s a big change and that takes time, bringing in foreign managers and a load of new players and expecting instant results is just naive.

B: He did do that but even in Brazil there were plenty of questions about how good a manager he was and if he could keep control of the locker room. He was a bad hire and its time for Shandong to cut their losses. Guoan brought in a new manager and just as many new players and are getting pretty good results.

S: It’s the luck of the draw as we said with managers. I think you are being really harsh. The CSL is far too trigger-happy with managers as it is.

B: He’s lost the locker room, his tactics have been bad (basically its limited to relying on Vagner Love to score goals), and he’s barely played one of last year’s top foreigners and Aussie World Cup squad member, Ryan McGowen. I do agree that at times managers are fired too fast, period (in this respect the CSL is no different from most other leagues), but there is plenty of reason to fire him.

S: Let’s see how things turn out. It doesn’t look good for him admittedly.

B: On to this week, Shandong face off against another Shanghai side, this time it’s high flying East Asia traveling to Jinan, are Shandong in for their fourth straight defeat?

S: That’s possible, although East Asia have been as erratic as Shandong this season, so its a though one to call.

B: Agreed, this year it is always really hard to talk about these matches because you have no idea what might happen. These teams are all over the place. I think the other match to watch, Guizhou vs. R&F is a very similar situation. Will you feel confident about Greentown’s trip up north?

S: Aren’t Hangzhou hosting Evergrande?

B: Too much green, I meant Greenland…

S: Ah, the banter flies haha. Well, Shenhua (not Greenland!) will be in Harbin. I think this game has low scoring draw written all over it. Firas is apparently back from injury having been put on a special program to speed up recovery since strike colleague Ruiz is out with a longer-term injury. Jiang Kun filled in for Firas last time out, no more needs be said.

B: Yeah, it would be just like Shenhua to go from beating Shandong to losing to the worst team in the league.

S: It certainly would, all bets are off. And Harbin have been making strides of late, they must surely fancy their chances. Knowing how awful Shenhua are on the road, I think an away victory would be a surprise to me personally, even if the table and the relative experience levels of the clubs may suggest otherwise.

B: It will be one of the more exciting fixtures.

S: Yeah, there’s nothing really that standout this weekend to be honest.

B: Nothing at the top of the table, but plenty of matches that should be a good watch.

S: Let’s hope so. So what about the World Cup? Some notable CSL players will be going to Brazil, but seems the biggest surprise is who won’t be going…

B: It is a pity Ecuador didn’t choose Joffre Guerron.

S: Obviously they think they have better players, but I can’t pretend I’m familiar with who else from Ecuador will be making their way to Brazil in his place next month.

B: Okay, okay…I know you’re talking about the announcement that despite Lippi’s opinion, Diamanti is not in the Italy lineup.

S: He’s not even in the provisional 30 man squad, that’s a bit of a slap in the face considering the word on the Italian street was that moving to Evergrande wouldn’t harm his World Cup chances. There’s loads of talk about him maybe regretting moving down to a lower level due to this, which is fair comment let’s be honest. But maybe it’s obscuring the greater truth – he simply hasn’t played very well since he came here.

B: To be honest, I never really saw him play in Italy so I don’t know how good he was there. He’s been decent so far this year, but not really a standout, I think he’s also had a few minor injury issues. I can only guess the move to China significantly hurt his chances.

S: Yeah it certainly seems that way. It will be interesting to see how it affects his game for Evergrande. Will his head go down or will he resolve to start a new chapter and come back after the World Cup break refreshed instead of having played for Italy?

B: As a Guoan fan I’m disappointed because it means he’ll be able to play in that big match in Beijing just before the break.

S: Understandable. And I’m disappointed as a CSL fan, a good World Cup showing from Diamanti would have reflected well on the league here, but, it’s not to be.

B: No, but we do have the previously mentioned McGowan on the Aussie team, and a number of Koreans will be going as well, so there will be some representatives of the CSL in Brazil.

S: There will. I’m perplexed by McGowan being on the bench last Saturday against Shenhua. Neither Dai Lin or Du Wei are of his quality in my view. Perhaps he isn’t quite fit. Regardless, it will be good to see him and the other CSL players appear on the big screen. Not to mention Qingdao’s Osman Chávez. Is this the first time a China League player has been at a World Cup? I imagine it probably is.

B: He’s fit enough to be chosen in the Aussie lineup, this goes back to Cuca’s issues….

S: It does. At least McGowan doesn’t constantly waste possession shooting from the half-way line like that stupid cunt Dai Lin.

B: Were there tears shed over his return to Hongkou?

S: I don’t think anyone was that bothered about Dai Lin, but there were tears over Wang Dalei as you know, it was all quite emotional.

B: I can imagine, that has to be one of the most emotional returns in recent years. The only one I can think of that elicited a similar level of emotion (though different ones at that) was Huang Bowen’s return to Gongti.

S: Yes, an equally intense reaction I think, just at the opposite end of the emotion spectrum.

B: Very sad to see, Wang’s a class act. Well, it’s been another long one, mate, time to finish up & head out the bar, bottoms up!

S: Yes it has. Cheers B it’s been a good one indeed, gan bei everyone!

B: Cheers!

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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