A slightly disingenuous name perhaps but the third anniversary of the founding of Guangzhou R&F provides your correspondent with a chance to select his eleven; conforming to CSL foreign player rules of course which only allow five foreigners with at least one being an Asian national.
Three years ago Guangzhou based property development firm R&F took over China League One side Shenzhen Phoenix (actually formed 28 years ago as Shenyang Ginde), moved them 100km or so inland along the Pearl River and Guangzhou R&F were born. Despite moving relatively often in their short history, which also included four seasons in Changsha, the club are showing signs of settling down in Guangzhou by jointly developing a football school with Chelsea and making efforts to build their fan base as well as investment on the pitch which has seen the team reach the CSL and show signs of challenging for an ACL place this season.
Naturally this Guangzhou R&F dream team would be playing at Yuexiushan because although they played half a season at University City and will soon play a friendly in Foshan, few grounds in the CSL have the charm of grand old Yuexiushan stadium.
As for the sounds in the stadium, whilst fans have been treated to everything from Nigerian rhythms from Yakubu’s personal fan group, an electric guitar, cheerleaders and currently Davi’s samba boys in the stands, the all-time eleven would have to be backed in Cantonese. Sharing several chants and songs with neighbours Evergrande and China League One side Guangdong Sunray Cave, the pick of these is the Cantonese version of “we want five.” First heard at R&F when 4-1 up over Changchun, the main stand broke out into a chant went mm bei yat, mm bei yat, mm bei yat. Try making that sound intimidating.
Goalkeeper: Cheng Yuelei. A solid performer between the sticks for R&F, he’s also one of the few first choice goalkeepers in the CSL who actually wear the number one jersey. Sergio Farias gave Shi Xiaotian a chance but Cheng has been the main man in goal for the blue and whites.
Right back: Tang Miao. Tang burst on the scene in 2012 and picked up ’s young player of the year award. Since then he’s continued to sprint up and down Yuexiushan’s right touchline and if he could cross better would be doing so for China as well.
Left back: Jiang Zhipeng. Defence, and left back in particular, have not been strong points for R&F and new boy Jiang has shown just about enough to make the all time eleven after only half a season partly for his attacking play and partly because his competition was mainly players played out of position in previous years.
Centre backs: Zhang Yaokun and Li Zhe. Captain for most of the past two seasons, it would be foolish to leave Zhang Yaokun out here but his current centre back partner Jang Hyun-Soo is a victim of the foreign player rule so R&F’s first captain in the CSL Li Zhe gets the nod. Currently languishing with the reserves, Li scored the blue and white’s first ever CSL goal with a powerful header in a 3-1 win over Beijing on opening day 2012 and also got a crucial goal to record a late victory over Shenxin the same year.
Left wing: Lu Lin. Usually used of the bench by successive managers, Lu’s trademark high energy and quality performances merit a starting place in the all-time eleven and that’s without mentioning that as a Guangzhou native he is an absolute legend amongst the fans.
Right wing: Jiang Ning. Included in the national squad as an attacking midfielder some of his more impressive displays for R&F have come when he’s been played out wide.
Central midfield: Davi and Park Jong-Woo. Davi burst onto the CSL stage in the first half of the 2012 but then had a quieter spell as he fell out with Farias and Sven used him in an unfamiliar deeper role. Sven’s decision has paid off in the long term though as the Brazilian has blossomed this year with nine goals and three assists so far. Park Jong-Woo alongside him is a more disruptive than creative force but a very necessary one for the blue and whites; it’s no coincidence that their dip in form before the mid-season break came when Park was with the South Korea squad.
Abderrazak Hamdallah and Rafael Coelho. Like his fellow countryman Davi, Coelho exploded onto the scene in 2012 and then dropped off as Yakubu’s arrival took the Brazilian out of the spot light. Sven got the pair of them to click shortly after his arrival and for this, his flair and fantastic backheel against Wuhan Coelho makes the team. Much like with Yakubu, here he’ll be playing off Hamdallah who already has ten goals to his credit but could easily have more if he was a bit cooler and took time to aim more accurately.
Zhang Yuan 69
Tang Miao 68
Cheng Yuelei 63
Lu Lin 52 (including substitute appearances)
Shi Xiaotian. Now warming the bench at Liaoning, Shi gets the nod if only for his impressive tattoos.
Li Jianhua. Another Cantonese who can cover both left and right back.
Wang Xiaolong. One for the short term future, if the three year anniversary came a little later Jiang Ning could find himself pushed out of the R&F dream team by Wang.
Chang Feiya. One for the long term future, the young winger has huge potential.
Yakubu: The Nigerian never gave the impression that he was 100% committed but it’s still hard to overlook his 25 goals in 45 games.