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Pub Talk: Bye bye Sepp!

This week’s pub talk came just hours before a rather big fracas involving Shandong and Guizhou, and the shock departure of Canavaro. Nevertheless, your dymanic duo still managed to get in a good discussion ahead of the forthcoming national break. A certain under-fire leading figure in world football comes up, Shenhua’s woes are lamented by Shanghai Ultra, Evergrande go martching on and the international scene is visited. There’s more in store, so dive in, and please leave your views about any topic you desire in the comments section below.

Shanghai Ultra: Welcome back to the pub B. What are you drinking?

Bcheng: Beers all around! Gotta celebrate the demise of Sepp!

S: Absolutely. The poison gnome is gone. Shamefully, the AFC was backing him with a statement on their website. I think his resignation leaves them with egg on their face.

B: The AFC is in almost as much a mess as FIFA, so no surprises there.

S: No surprise indeed. I’m all for redistributing the vast football wealth to countries which need assistance in developing football, but not to the already bulging personal pockets of football administrators.

B: I think we all agree upon that, we’ve talked a lot about scandals in Chinese football and at the CFA and we’re slowly seeing changes made, let’s hope with Sepp out of the picture, FIFA will get its house in order.

S: I hope so. I’m a great believer in the power of football to bring positive social change and to build bridges. There’s no much more it can achieve. But when there is rot at the top, it can only spread downwards.

B: On the subject of things at the top, I must say you were right about Shandong beating SIPG, though it was certainly close, Ma Ning once again was a busy man.

S: I watched most of the second half, Shandong were the better side – Shanghai International Port Group scored twice in injury time, they were never in much danger of taking anything from the game I don’t think. They’ve continued their habit from last year of letting their heads go down too easily, I think. Shandong on the other hand are beginning to look very dangerous.

B: I would generally agree, though I think SIPG showed some fight. Shandong scored two goals in quick succession toward the end of the first half and it looked like things could get out of hand, but Shanghai quickly equalized. Also, they scored those two late, despite not having an impact, they didn’t give up.

S: Yes. And as you say, Ma Ning appears to be trying to set some sort of record for awarding penalties and giving red cards – 4 pens in one match.

B: It did get a little crazy.

S: What do you make of Shandong? Is Cuca finally getting it together?

B: It seems that way, Aloisio is an excellent striker and Yang Xu is in form as of late. They are a team that certainly has explosive potential up top, but they seem to get lazy when not going up against the top sides.

S: Wang Dalei has also been removed as captain for an on-pitch altercation with a team-mate during their recent game against Shenhua. That was an odd spectacle.

B: Yeah…I think in the CSL motivation keeping yourself motivated is always an issue, its a problem that we haven’t seen with Evergrande, though I think under Cannavaro it’s becoming an issue. They certainly didn’t look so good for the first hour of their match against a very bad Guizhou side.

S: Yeah Evergrande are a funny beast this season. They seem good at keeping their powder dry for the ACL, but then struggle against more mediocre opposition.

B: Of course they still beat up on Guizhou, winning 3-0, but for awhile it was interesting. I wonder if the referee would have seen Zheng Zhi’s flagrant stomp on a Guizhou player and properly red carded him, would things have been different? Thankfully, the CFA has stepped in and handed down a three match ban for the incident.

S: I saw that, it’s funny how these punishments seem to arbitrary. Although he definitely deserved it.

B: I don’t think they are very arbitrary, it seems generally there is a method to the CFA’s madness. You can typically figure out how many matches a player is going to get for an incident.

S: Maybe it’s their definition of violent conduct? Wang Shouting was given a four match ban for pulling a play-acting opponent a couple of yards off the pitch, a couple of season ago. That doesn’t seem consistent.

B: Perhaps, that was a bit of a weird one. The other top side, Guoan, didn’t come back from their ACL defeat as vindictive as I was hoping for, but did just enough to get past Shenxin.

S: I caught some of that game also, Shenxin’s penalty miss surely sums up their season so far.

B: Yeah, credit where due, Yang Zhi was big on that, but Shenxin is just not a very good side, making their defeat of R&F a few weeks ago all the more surprising.

S: That was an exceptionally bizarre result, R&F must have had the off days of all off days. But anyway, I would have fallen out of my chair if Guoan had failed to beat Shenxin at home.

B: We have a lot of streaking teams in the CSL right now, Changchun and Tianjin have been impressive as of late while Shenhua and R&F have tripped up. Changchun and Shenhua met the other night and Yatai cruised to victory, what do you think of Shenhua so far? How hot is Gillot’s seat?

S: CSL is indeed streakier than bacon. I’m pretty disgusted with Shenhua to be honest with you. Last night’s game was just another indication of the institutionalized problems that exist within the club. No matter who we sign, or who is in charge, it’s really like groundhog day, again and again and again.

B: So you’ll be okay with them keeping Gillot around for a little while longer?

S: Yes, definitely. Shenhua sold all their best domestic players to their rivals, replaced them with mostly second-rate domestic rejects, ignored the problem areas, then signed Papadopulous who has the touch of a rapist, then marquee signing Cahill, Shenhua’s 4th attacking midfielder, when we have no competent any out-and-out striker, right-back or defensive midfielder. Alex Ferguson himself couldn’t make this team functional, you could put Messi and Ronaldo in it, it would still be shit. Changing the coach won’t achieve anything whatsoever.

B: We often talk about how clubs are too quick to change their managers, hopefully Shenhua will sit tight and keep Gillot around for a little while longer. I talked about all the streaking clubs, but none have really done a lot other than making things all the more bunched in the middle of the table, its far from desperation time for your lot.

S: I’m really against the swapping coaches every year. Football is a complex game which requires time to implement strategies which are best for the longer term development of clubs and players. Gilliot doesn’t have an amazing pedigree but he was given the job and should be given at least a couple of years. You’re right though, it’s not desperation time. I think the fans are just very dissapointed because they club invested a lot in new players yet the results so far show no overall improvement with last year.

B: Well, they didn’t really invest that much, did they? They brought in Cahill, which was really just shining up a piece of shit, throwing in someone to sell tickets with a bunch of mediocre players.

S: Aparently 500 million RMB if the press is to be believed. But you can’t see that money on the pitch for one second. Most of it probably went in Shenhua CEO Zhou Jun’s pocket – at least according to a Tieba post which was taken seriously by the media, causing him to threaten legal action. How funny is that. It’s so obvious Shenhua signs players for non-football reasons. Otherwise, they simply know fuck-all about football.

B: It certainly doesn’t show on the field. Well, we have an odd week, things are bunched up, just coming off a weekend of matches and then Wednesday through Friday matches before the league goes on a two week break and another bunch of games. We talked about Shenhua’s defeat, last night we saw SIPG slip up again, managing only a draw at Shijiazhuang, even that was tough as they went 2-0 down and needed a pair of late goals to split the points.

S: Yes and it was amusing for once to see Mao Jianqing score against a hometown club again.

B: Yeah, despite his effort he failed to get one against Shenhua, though at least his goal came against a Shanghai club.

S: Indeed and only a desperate Bai Jiajun lunge prevented Mao getting up to his old tricks again last Saturday against Shenhua. Incidentally you may be interested to learn that Mao issued a “Mea Culpa” to the Shenhua support ahead of the game and took a bow before the north terrace post match – he was booed and applauded in equal measure. Expect him to be back at Shenhua next year, to meet the club’s mediocre domestic signing quota.

B: Haha, it would be very interesting if that were to happen. Well, on things not Shanghai related, we have two interesting matches left this week, with Evergrande taking on Tianjin and Guoan going down south to R&F.

S: Those are fairly interesting games, I’d expect Guoan and Evergrande to win both. Are you feeling good about your side so far this year?

B: I’m soso on Guoan, I think a win against R&F would help amp up the excitement a little. Since R&F joined the CSL, every trip Guoan has made to Yuexiushan has ended in a disappointing 3-1 defeat.

S: Yes it is a bit of a bogey ground for you guys. I thought you might be more upbeat about Guoan though? Joint top of the league after all.

B: But honestly that’s where I’d expect them to be, its just the way they’ve got there hasn’t been very stellar, there’s been so many mediocre performances that have gotten them to that spot.

S: Not unreasonable. On Guoan-related topics, what about Zhang Xizhe? I’m surprised he didn’t get any chance before the end of the European season.

B: Despite all the positive talk about buying him for what he could do on the field, it’s become apparent Wolfsburg was using him to build themselves in China (the idiocy behind that is something we’ve gone into a lot). Shockingly, they even had him attending a marketing event in Shanghai on the same weekend the club had a match and Zhang was fit, insane treatment for someone who is supposed to be a first team player.

S: Yes that’s really disappointing, or, I would go further and say it’s a little nauseating – having him involved in marketing events, when he’s a professional football player who should get an opportunity on the pitch first at least.

B: It was especially disappointing toward the end of the year when Wolfsburg’s runners up position was already solidified. Why not give him a shot? They had nothing to lose and it just showed they never intended to use him as a footballer, I’m hoping he’ll come back in the summer.

S: Completely agree man. WTF Wolfsburg? I think he’s good enough to get an opportunity surely. Hope he can stay a bit longer until he gets a chance.

B: I’d like to go back to Evergrande-Tianjin, I may be too optimistic, but I think it could be a very interesting affair. Tianjin’s one of the few sides who have beaten Evergrande in CSL play, I also think that the importance of Zheng Zhi’s role for Evergrande can’t be overstated, they will really miss him. I also think Tianjin has to be up for this one, if they win they are really part of the title race.

S: Can’t see Tianjin being a part of the title race at all to be honest, don’t rate them much. Evergrande’s game does hinge heavily on Zheng Zhi though. Also have doubts about Canavaro, he’s inexperienced as a coach to say the least.

B: I think its a three club race at the top, but if Tianjin manages an upset, they’re within six points of the leaders (assuming Guoan or Shandong will win) almost halfway through the season

S: Yeah that’s higher than I would have expected them to be. You don’t think Shanghai International Port Group have more of a shout at the title than Tianjin?

B: I still think its down to Beijing, Evergrande, and Shandong at the top. Whether Tianjin are real or not, we’ll find out in their next two matches, it doesn’t get tougher than @Evergrande followed by @Beijing.

S: That’s tough indeed. Well, we’re on a break for the next two weeks. Any thoughts about the internationals coming up?

B: China’s traveling to Bhutan, it’s not an easy trip but they’ll have a bit of extra time to prepare with the match day moved up and likely they’ll head to Kunming to get some training at altitude, but come on, this has got to be a very one sided win for China, right?!

S: Indeed. It’s hard to see any outcome other than a solid win for China. Surely even they can’t mess it up.

B: I’m very surprised by the continued policy that playing for Evergrande means you get a national team call up, Zou Zheng’s inclusion in the side is a little messed up, no?

S: That his name features on the squad list also puzzles me. I mean, the opposition is such that there is room for experimentation. But, there are plenty of other players who deserve some NT love.

B: Agreed…With Yu Hai out, there’s talk that Song Boxuan may even get his first shot at the national team.

S: I think Song definitely has national team quality and should have been given a shot by now already. Zuo Zheng… honestly looks strange. Well, not much else to say really since it’s against Bhutan, no disrespect, etc. Is it time to call it a night?

B: I think so. Cheers, see you next week!

S: 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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