Footie fans in China’s capital are going through a tough period right now, their side, Beijing Guoan, hasn’t managed a league win since well before the World Cup break. Most recently the Beijingers have only managed draws against Henan Jianye and Changchun Yatai, two teams battling to stay up.
Combined with injuries to Korean midfielder Ha Dae-sung and Argentinian attacker Palo Batalla, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic, but the arrival of Dejan Damjanovic has brought hope. “Asia’s Ibrahimovic” as he’s been named due to his (somewhat) passing resemblance with the Swedish star had a scoring record that his namesake would be proud of during his time at FC Seoul, with double digit goal tallies in each of his six seasons in the Korean capital, including 31 goals in 2012 and leading the club to the Asian Champions League finals last season with seven goals in 13 appearances.
When Jiangsu went in with a big money bid for him in the offseason, there were high expectations for his arrival in Nanjing and he quietly managed to score five goals in 11 appearances for the mediocre side. When the summer transfer window opened up and Beijing snatched him, there were plenty of disappointing sighs after the club made big promises (a striker who played in Brazil) and failed to deliver yet again. Also, strikers who’ve done well elsewhere in the CSL tend to universally struggle in Beijing (step forward Emil Martinez, Otto, and, most recently, Peter Utaka).
Yours truly was among the let down supporters when the news about Dejan broke, but after only three matches, I’m already signing a different tune. Dejan is capable of doing damage with the ball at his feet, creating opportunities for his teammates, as well as serving as a target man in the box. He’s already opened his account with Beijing, scoring in the CFA Cup, as well as playing a setup role in league goals against Henan and Changchun. Word is that Guoan wanted him from the start of the year, but FC Seoul, mindful that they were once again in the same ACL group as Beijing and having already sold their captain to the club, didn’t want to let Damjanovic go as well, so he had to make Jiangsu his home for a few months.
His arrival even makes Batalla’s recent injury more an opportunity than an issue. Guoan manager Gregorio Manzano was dead set on using Batalla as the attacking midfielder, without him in the lineup there’s a chance that the Spaniard will give Zhang Xizhe or even Piao Cheng (let’s face it, the experiment with Piao as a defensive mid has failed miserably) in the hole position. Zhang Chengdong, Guoan’s workman, who has played on either wing as well as right back, spent much of his time as a striker before coming to the capital and might fit well in that position. Manzano is not lacking in choices, hopefully he’ll make the right one, the right one pretty much being anyone not named Shao Jiayi. Xizhe, having scored a goal over the weekend, may be the best choice for the time being.
Down by seven points with half the season to go (and a game in hand), Guoan has a big deficit to make up, but it’s not insurmountable (unless they continue playing the way they have recently). It’s still early days, but without much time to gel with his teammates, Damjanovic is already looking a great piece of business. Given some more time to build a partnership, he may also help one of Beijing’s young stars get their season back on track. Once again there are high expectations for Damjanovic, in a market where there is incomparable pressure (at least when talking about China), but it looks like Dejan will deliver.