Hebei China Fortune beat Changchun Yatai, meaning Hebei edge their way up the Chinese Super League table and Changchun remain rock bottom.
Chinese Super League
Changchun Yatai 0
Hebei China Fortune 1
Looking at the teams as they were being announced on the giant electronic board, one could not help but be struck by how some of the players’ names had far more gravitas than others’: Changchun Yatai’s team list was dominated by Messrs Marcelo Moreno—the Bolivian centre-forward who last week scored a well-deserved hatrick—and Ognjen Ozegovic—the promising Serbian who often links-up well with the former; Hebei China Fortune’s expensively assembled team list was commanded by Ezequiel Lavezzi—the Argentinian attacker who is rumoured to be earning in excess of 5,000,000 RMB per week—and Gernivio—the Ivory Coast centre-forward who had several ultimately unproductive seasons with Arsenal and, more recently, Roma. One recalled the various line-ups of Real Madrid at the turn of the millennium, who were similarly led by what they termed galacticos.
No doubt the keen and observant reader will be only too aware of the common thread uniting both Changchun’s and Hebei’s superstars; they are all foreigners. What role, then, would the majority of people on the pitch—all of whom are Chinese—adopt? All these people have the privilege of wearing their sides’ respective shirts and drawing an assumedly handsome pay-cheque. Perhaps it might be more theoretically correct to label these as non-players. If we productively set to work French anthropologist Marc Auge’s distinction between place and non-place—where places are more often than not final destination points, such as the home or workplaces; and non-spaces tend to be thought as those (super-)modern ‘byways’ and ‘highways’ which we inevitably encounter during our journeys, such as the metro, the bus or even the airport—might we not be witnessing the emergence between players and non-players in the Chinese Super League? If so, these non-players could be thought to adopt a passing or even fleeting role; one would obviously see them, but the football—and even football more generally—would pass through them en-route to its eventual destination: a (foreign) player.
After the Chinese national anthem, both sides made their way towards their respective halves. Defensively, both sides lined-up with four defenders and two holding midfielders. The only apparent minor difference between the two sides, in terms of tactics at-least, was where the remaining four players from either side were to fit in; Changchun appeared to be slightly more defensive with just Moreno leading the line, whereas Hebei played both Lavezzi and Gernivio as out-and-out forwards.
Changchun started off the first half the brighter of the two sides. Perhaps buoyed by scoring four in their previous game against Tianjin Teda, Changchun proved quite problematic for Hebei’s defence. Ozegovic, in particular, was energetic both in terms of chasing down the fictitious ‘lost ball’ and productive when in possession; very early on in the ninth minute he was nearly rewarded for jinxing past as many as four Hebei defenders only for the ‘keeper to palm his shot away at the last.
As the half wore on, Hebei started to wrestle away control from Changchun. Lavezzi, although not looking very good value for money, started to show flashes of evidence that he might be a cut above those sharing the pitch with him. Yet Hebei remained unable to capitalise, mainly because they were being increasingly pulled-up for being offside; either Changchun’s defence had learnt a few tricks from George Graham’s Arsenal side of the 1990s or Hebei’s expensively assembled side were unable to do something as ridiculously simple as look across the line.
Towards the end of the half, Hebei almost made a breakthrough but Gernivio nonchalantly handled when played through. Lavezzi also demonstrated that when he wants to be he can be a top-quality footballer by beating five Changchun players, although given that he was deep inside his own territory when doing so and ran into traffic by the time he hit the half-way line perhaps this was just wasted effort on his part.
The beginning of the second half was merely a continuation of what had occurred in the previous half. Hebei huffed and puffed, but were ineffective at beating the mass of Changchun bodies in front of them. Gernivio served to both frustrate and, at times, be pleasant on the eye; he was either getting caught off-side or linking-up well with Lavezzi.
In the 60th minute during one of the brief intervals where Hebei allowed Changchun both possession of the ball and, more importantly, territory too, Hebei’s Turkish centre-back Gulum made an important tackle and strode forward. With constrained options, Gulum opted to take the ball towards and subsequently down the left flank; he skipped past one man and then proceeded to spin 360 degrees around the ball in order to beat Changchun’s right-back. Gulum reduced his speed, steadied himself and then played a lovely ball along the ground to Gernivio who was lurking in the ‘D’ outside the penalty area. Gernivio had two centre-backs in-front of him to beat, so squared a ball to Luo Senwen who was busting a gut to make it so far upfield. From 20 yards out, Luo sent an absolute blast past the ‘keeper. Luo in doing what seemed increasingly difficult for the expensively assembled stars to do had firmly brought the bifurcation of players and non-players into question.
Changchun tried to make something of a comeback. Despite, or perhaps even because of, the increasing time they had on the ball, they were unable to break down Hebei’s organised defence. Changchun’s task was made all the more difficult when Gael Kakuta came on for Gernivio, and Hebei finally had the pace and wit to hit Changchun more frequently on the break.
The game petered out to its end. Changchun’s supporters became a tad restless and disgruntled in the dying minutes, yet it seems that such performances might be something that they are going to need to grow accustomed to.
Perhaps the distinction between players and non-players is unfair; however, what today’s showing points towards is a growing division between the haves and the have nots, not on an individual-level, but on a collective-level. Would it be unjust to even sardonically refer to Changchun as a non-team who are going to have real issues against expensively assembled sides? It is no doubt very early in the season to be making such judgments, but Changchun currently find themselves bottom of the Chinese Super League. Today, more than any day in recent times, will require Changchun Yatai’s supporters to show ‘pessimism of the intellect, and optimism of the will’.