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Pub Talk: Non-derbies, cup shocks, and Asamoah Gyan – a superfulous signing?

It’s all happening this week. Bcheng vents his rage at the shock exit of his beloved Guoan to a lower division side from the same city. Just as well it wasn’t a real derby then – as Shanghai Ultra readily agrees. So who is up for the cup? Not Evergrande or Guoan this year – is it taken seriously enough? The pair debate that. Elsewhere Asamoah Gyan brings his mobile disco to Shanghai – is the city’s port group smuggling in over-priced goods? Meanwhile the CSL games of this weekend are under the microscope – will the excitement be visible to the naked eye? Your resident pontificators reveal all. Join us in the discussion in the comments section!

BC: Back in the pub after a week off and I don’t know if I’ll be walking out today, already downed one beer and have a few more (and shots) lined up after the depression of the other night’s “derby” loss….but enough about me, how are you Ultra?

SU: Good evening B, I’m doing not so bad. I’ve been off the booze for a while – too many alcohol-fueled outbursts on the terrace. Did you indulge in one of those after the other night’s shock cup result?

BC: It was more just stunned disappointment than anything, though I told you before the match I feared Guoan was going to lose it. It would have been okay if it was even close, but they were absolutely pathetic last night. One of the worst performances I’ve seen in years.

SU: I was shocked by the result. Guoan are clearly a much stronger team than Beikong. It looks to me as if Guoan didn’t take this match seriously, is that the case?

BC: It is, but it’s not like they put out a youth reserve side. With the exception of Ha Dae-sung, they didn’t have any “regular” starters last night, but a number of guys who have gotten rotation playing time and they had two foreigners on the pitch. It shouldn’t have been that bad. It’s utterly disappointing, I understand focusing on the league, but they knew a win would mean playing a very bad Guizhou team for a spot in the semifinal. I place a lot of the blame on Manzano (or whoever picked the lineup last night), he was outclassed by Stanojevic, which was all the more disappointing considering Stano’s tactics were no surprise.

SU: Yeah I think Guoan really had enough talent to dispose of 2nd tier opposition even if it wasn’t quite a full first XI. That said I think the concept of resting players for the cup inevitably devalues it, I think something has to be done to prevent this, a healthy cup competition can add a lot of the football landscape here.

BC: You can’t tell teams how to play and it could make for an interesting final, but I really don’t understand the decision to rest so many players. Even the people on the subs bench, he had three players who haven’t played in years (one who never played a first team match). If you have a big CSL match coming up, I can understand it, but they have Hangzhou this weekend. Sure, you’re in first place in the league, but look at the path to the CFA Cup final, why not go for it? The final is played after the season so it is only going to add 3 more matches, is that so much to worry about? His lineup was obviously chosen to rest players, but I think he thought it was good enough to win, that turned out not to be the case & it was really a big mistake.

SU: I think you absolutely nailed it there. Nothing more I can add to that. I also think the playing of games in the work day afternoon really doesn’t help give any sense of gravitas to the cup. I can sort of understand it for early-round games where third teir teams are involved, perhaps floodlighting might be an issue. But Shenhua played Qingdao yesterday at 3.30pm on a Wednesday afternoon – Qingdao were in the CSL just two seasons ago.

BC: Saves on the electricity bill…Anyways, so the most interesting thing about the quarterfinals will not be that this year it features two lower league sides, it will be the Shanghai derby, excited?

SU: I think it’s funny to talk about saving on the electricity bill when much of Qingdao is ostentatiously lit up every night for tourist spots, plus let’s not even think about the amount of money ploughed into Chinese football in general. I think there is an important point to be made – playing professional football matches during workday afternoons is definitely avoidable and also just plain daft. For the derby, well I noticed you didn’t talk about last night’s Guoan-Beikong game as a derby and quite rightly so. It’s basically a Beijing version of Shenhua – Shenxin. Anyway yes, excited for Shenhua – Shanghai International Port Group – that is a proper derby indeed.

BC: Well, it’s even worse than that, the two sides aren’t even in the same division, Beijing Enterprises Group FC and Shenxin get similar attendances, but many of those fans that show up are also Guoan fans. I saw people who were wearing Beijing Enterprises Group FC jerseys but had on Guoan scarves. This was an oddity that we probably won’t see again in awhile.

SU: I’m glad you’re following my lead of referring to your city rivals by their proper name! No reason why a proper derby couldn’t develop in Beijing also if Beikong got promoted, but for now, clearly such a thing doesn’t exist in any meaningful way.

BC: Well, on the subject of SIPG, I know you have some strong feelings about a recent piece of business they’ve done.

SU: I do, and they’re based on what I’m hearing from inside the club. Basically players and staff are bemused at the signing of Asamoyah Gyan for silly money and don’t think he is what the club needs right now.

BC: I want to argue with you on this, I think Gyan is a great signing, he’s a hell of a player who is certainly going to get his goals, but looking at the stats, after laying a goose egg against Guizhou, they’ve averaged over three goals a match in their last six, scoring help certainly isn’t what they need, but it does make them stronger as they try to battle for the title. Do you know if Davi or Koussai are going to leave to make way for him? One’s on five goals right now, the other has four, not exactly horrible numbers. Then again Shenhua could be dropping Henrique who has six, so that’s just how things work in the CSL…

SU: It’s not unreasonable to say why wouldn’t a CSL team want to sign a guy who has a solid scoring record. But they already have Hysen who is second top scorer, and he himself has made his feelings about it clear on Twitter. But I think signing Gyan is more to do with this kind of constant need for new foreign players in the CSL. It’s kind of like how China is always knocking down old stuff and building new, like, closing down CSL stadiums for “renovation” for an entire year when they’re about to be used for international events. I also heard that SIPG’s chairman wanted to sign a name to compete with Shenhua signing Demba Ba. There’s also the small fact that Sven’s son is an agent who is involved in SIPGs transfers, perhaps he’s getting a nice cut from this deal.

SU: I don’t know who will leave SIPG, but the fact that they’re signing Gyan when they already have Hysen who signed a new contract earlier this year and Kouassi who signed on a 3 year contract at the start of this season, shows that this move has not been well thought-out, at best, that should say Hysen himself rainsde concerns about the signing on his twitter)

BC: Getting a cut or not, I think the name thing is a definite factor and I think Gyan is going to work out. Hysen’s doing well, but he’s 33 and you can’t rely solely on him. I think there’s an issue with expectations for a foreigner more than anything, I mentioned about what SIPG’s foreigners and Henrique (who may be leaving Shenhua) are doing, add Guoan’s Erton (with four goals already) to the mix, possibly even Dejan. I think expectations are way too high for these players but you look at the scoring table and they are who the club relies upon, anything less than six goals at the halfway point puts a player at risk of being dumped.

SU: I agree. And you mention Henrique, he’s a good example, that there’s even talk that the club may voluntarily release it’s top scorer shows something is badly wrong. Henrique is a quality player, but he’s not a natural goal scorer. Of his six goals, four have been scored against Shenxin and two were literally tap-ins. Not to take away from him, his running and movement and skills are evident. But he’s not a natural scorer like Ba is so at least there is a football argument there, the real issue of course are the foreign quotas which makes difficult moves necesssary. The solution is signing more players who at least stand a chance of staying for a few seasons instead of all this upheaval every window which doesn’t make for stability.

BC: But that’s part of the issue, it’s not true of all clubs, but let’s look at Guoan (scary indeed). Erton came as a late signing during last summer’s window, now there’s something like a week left in this year’s window and Guoan is seriously looking to make a change. On the one hand, maybe it means that you spend the necessary time studying your options, but the reality is that it leads to a lot of impulse buying, especially when a striker starts to struggle right before a window. It stinks of desperation more than anything and more often than not it leads to mistakes.

BC: This could be Guoan specific more so than anything, but the desire for change is endemic across the board, how many clubs don’t make a summer change?

SU: It is. And so are headlines like “Sunzu injured, basically seals his Shenhua exit” – what can be more short term than that? He’s not out for the season. So the problem is this kind of short-termism is endemic, even in the fans’ and media’s minds, they’re so accustomed to players coming and going. Of course new players will always arrive each year. But looking at the bigger picture, it really shows there is zero long term planning at most clubs.

BC: It’s a cycle all around, isn’t it? We’re now talking about the foreign players, but I posted something on twitter a few days ago where basically half the teams fire their managers each year. We’ve already seen six changes at the halfway point now, and with each new manager, especially a foreign one, you’re bound to have new foreigners coming in. Worst of all, two clubs have brought back managers they’ve fired less than a year ago (well, I think Gong Lei was fired in May of last year, so slightly more than a year ago).

SU: Right, it’s a cycle but there shouldn’t be this many changes. I mean looking at Shenhua for an example, the club has nothing to play for this season except pride in a game against Guoan and a couple more derbies v SIPG. With relegation out of the way, this is vital time to use to introduce younger prospects for the future, during a time when not getting great results won’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I think this example applies to a lot of clubs.

BC: They do have the Cup to play for, right? If they win the derby, you gotta like your chances at a Cup final appearance. Anyways, with the Shenhua example, the hope has to be that Sissoko and Demba Ba aren’t just here for the next 13 matches but now they get to adjust to their teammates and prepare for next year.

SU: I hope so too otherwise it’s just a waste for the club, and the CSL to some extent, except for a few individuals who benefit financially. Your point about the cup is solid and another reason why the CFA should take all steps to promote it’s value. The cup helps keep fans interested for longer for clubs with not much to play for, this is especially true for Shenhua who have been mired in mid-table for years now. And also, this year we have a very exciting CSL race, so far anyway, but in previous years, Evergrande have ran away with it usually, so the cup has helped keep some kind of competitive feeling in the air for Chinese football as a whole.

BC: Indeed, and speaking of Evergrande, after having demolished Chongqing with six goals in the second half last week, they travel to Changchun on Saturday, taking on a side they’ve struggled against the past few years.

SU: That’s right, their bogey side. Although Changchun are not doing that well at the moment.

BC: But this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve been struggling and still pulled off a result against the champions, you think they can do it yet again?

SU: Really hard to say. As you mention, Changchun have won before when it looked extremely unlikely. Perhaps the Cantonese don’t like being so far north.

BC: It is their longest away trip of the season…Will be one to watch for sure. Another one worth a look in, is tonight’s match as Shenxin hosts Guizhou. These two sides appear the most likely to go down, but a if Shenxin loses this one, their fate is sealed.

SU: Yes, surely there’d be no way back for the men in yellow. Guizhou on the other hand still have room for error. Although they’re fall this season was largely predictable.

BC: Guizhou have a bit more time, but even they are seven points back, so Gong Lei needs to turn things around very, very fast.

SU: Yeah, there’s only 13 games left which isn’t all that much considering there’s always going to be some tough games against top sides they are very unlikely to take much from.

BC: Definitely! Guangzhou R&F have one of those tough matches against a top side, as Sven and Davi return to Yuexiushan this weekend. Is Gyan set to be in the roster? I’ve just looked at some of the tweets Hysen sent, I don’t speak Swedish, but translated there seems to be some unhappiness there. You don’t want to piss off one of the league’s top scorers, but turning to twitter to speak your mind so openly is kinda surprising, guess he thought the language difference would be protection.

SU: Yes, and there’s one tweet in English I refereed to earlier saying he hopes Gyan’s arrival doesn’t mess things up. Hysen actually appeared on my weixin last night making a 5-0 gesture for banter purposes. I think he’s entitled to be unhappy at Gyan’s arrival as we discussed earlier. Another point to make is the foreign quota goes both ways – it can make some necessary moves look unorthodox to the outsider, but also if you have a limited amount of players you can bring in, then if you are playing out of your skin then you don’t expect someone to be brought into your position.

BC: Yeah, the English post was based on a tweet sent by a hockey player a week or two ago, but it the Swedish tweets are slightly darker. He has every right to be pissed, just a little surprised by the openness of it. In any case, R&F has the opposite problem, they’ve been trying to get rid of their foreigners. I think this is one where we’ll see the maturity of SIPG and that their luck on the road continues here.

SU: Yes, plus there is the Sven angle. R&F aren’t looking too clever these days. Any other games catch your fancy?

BC: That’s about it for me, the Jiangsu-Shandong match could provide something interesting, but I don’t really rate Sainty and think Shandong’s going to win with ease.

SU: Yeah, I think that sums it up pretty well overall.

BC: Well, I think that closes off this week’s version of the pub, eh?

SU: It does indeed. Thanks for drinking!

BC: Cheers mate, have a good weekend.

SU: Cheers.

What do you think? Pull up a stool and join in the discussion in the comments section below!

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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