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Xihu insider: Can Cahill stir a sleeping dragon in Zhejiang?

Tim Cahill, the former Everton, NY Red Bulls and Shanghai Shenhua midfielder arrived at Hangzhou Greentown this summer through unexpected circumstances after being released to make room in the squad for more glamourous and, arguably higher profile stars such as Fredy Guarin and Obafemi Martins.

Browsing the comments sections of a few football websites this week, I came across one expat claiming that Cahill must have gone to Hangzhou for one last payday, as the city itself is ‘deadsville’. While I’m sure said commenter would be hard pressed to find enough people who agree with him to form a starting XI this weekend, the number of fans who thought they would be seeing Cahill line up for Greentown this weekend must be fewer still.

The short term contract signed by Cahill indicates he is well aware of perennial strugglers Greentown’s recent history. Having only guaranteed safety on the final day of the 2015 season with a pulsating 4-2 win over bottom side Shanghai Shenxin, the Greentown squad needed serious investment to avoid a similar fate in 2016. Other than the presence of Australian teammate Matthew Spiranovic, who was a crucial addition in defence at the end of the 2015 season, Cahill can’t have been left inspired by what he saw when looking through the Hangzhou roster.

With recent talisman Anselmo Ramon injured and unregistered for at least the first part of the season, and other important players having moved to pastures new this summer – dependable goalkeeper Gu Chao and promising midfielder Xie Peng Fei have both made the move to newly cash rich Jiangsu Suning. The season ahead is likely to see Hangzhou once again scrapping at the bottom of the Super League. Despite this, Cahill appears eager to get started with his twitter feed filled daily with training photos and press conferences. He seems genuinely happy to have been given the opportunity to remain in the CSL and join the Greentown squad. If he has the impact both on the pitch and behind the scenes that his reputation and playing ability are capable of, the stroke of luck in securing his signing, could represent a huge coup for Hangzhou.

Cahill's shock unveiling this summer

Cahill’s move came as a surprise to many

Although it is unlikely Cahill’s arrival will have galvanised the previously uninterested locals to come in their droves to support the team this weekend, it was interesting to see if the recent exposure of the CSL to the world would be felt. If some commentators are to believed, the CSL should have the rest of world football quaking in their boots, however, I remain wholly unconvinced.  Playing in the cavernous Yellow Dragon Stadium to a crowd barely above 10,000, in a stale atmosphere cannot be what European football experts imagine when they see players such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez being lured to China.

While it is true that not all CSL teams have spent extravagantly, it is hard to believe this current hype around the CSL will manifest into much more than the albeit smaller scale publicity stunt of bringing Drogba and Anelka to Shanghai, a few years ago. For Hangzhou, at least, expect the trend of small crowds and a common reaction of ‘Tim, who?’ will continue for the foreseeable future.

Greentown secure a hard fought victory

Saturday saw Greentown face Changchun Yatai – a team who finished one place above Greentown in the 2015 standings. Approaching kick off in the Yellow Dragon stadium today, I was hoping to be blown away by an atmosphere, stoked by a new wave of interest in football, which would propel Greentown to new heights not seen since the 2010 season, in which they finished a record, fourth.

With an attendance similar to last season’s average of around 12,500, the crowd was still engulfed by the enormous stadium around them. Despite the best efforts of the Greentown faithful, who were excellent as always, with the usual chants and flags being given little chance to rest, however it was clear, in Hangzhou at least, the recent CSL hype had not filtered down to the smaller teams in the league.

Greentown team

The starting line up against Changchun featured a number of new faces

As expected, Cahill was named in the starting XI, playing just off fellow new signing, Brazilian striker, Denilson Gabionetta. Hangzhou started excellently, and were ahead in the 3rd minute with young midfielder Feng Gang, who has impressed on numerous occasions with his work rate and enthusiasm, rolling the ball across the box for a grateful Chen Po-Liang to curl home with his left foot. A great goal to get Greentown underway in 2016. Following the goal, neither team exerted any real dominance, with the match witnessing the usual ebb and flow of your typical CSL game.

In the 20th minute, goal scorer Po-Liang was felled in the area, giving the Hangzhou crowd the chance to see their star man Cahill, bring out his trademark, corner flag punching celebration. Cahill stepped up, and did not disappoint, coolly rolling the ball into the bottom left corner. The rest of the first half saw Changchun grow into the game, with Hangzhou increasingly willing to sit back and see out the half with their two goal cushion intact.

The second half saw Changchun push forward more regularly in search of a way back into the match and in the 70th minute,  they had their goal with Julien Gorius crossing superbly from the left for Marcelo Moreno, once heavily linked with Tottenham Hotspur, amongst others, to head home past home debutant Zhang Lei in the Greentown goal. Their advantage cut to one, Hangzhou brought on Ivorian Davy Claude Angan, as an outlet for counter attacks. Angan has often been a figure of frustration for me and I’m sure many other Greentown fans. With extraordinary physical attributes, he so often gets into fantastic positions, only to be let down by his decision making in the final third. On this occasion he did his job perfectly, holding the ball up well, and making numerous threatening runs down the Changchun left, giving Hong Kong international right back Jack Sealy a difficult end to his CSL debut.

Having soaked up the post goal pressure, Hangzhou did well to threaten the Changchun goal in the closing minutes, with a series of corners and were rewarded upon the final whistle with a deserved, 2-1 victory. There seems to be a new level of unity around this squad, shown none more so than by Cahill, whose family were in the crowd and who took to twitter to celebrate the win.

During his time with Shenhua, Cahill gained a reputation as somebody who really cares about the CSL and as somebody who is looking to help the league grow. Judging from his impact against Changchun, he will undoubtedly bring something different to this Greentown squad and hopefully, to football in ‘deadsville’ as a whole. If Teixeira, Martinez, Guarin and co, have the same passion for their respective clubs, both on and off the pitch, the CSL will be taking the first steps of a long journey to be recognised as more than a footballing backwater.

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