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Pub Talk: Does Chinese football care more about TV than fans? SIPG bizarre kickoff time examined

We are heading to the real pub. So no time for any witty preamble. Dive in!

BC: B Cheng and Shanghai Ultra back in the pub and I’m still crying in my beer, its not fun up north, but I hope things are going better in the south….

CW: The season continues it’s interesting start, but I’m no further forward in terms of being able to draw any real pointers or early conclusions.

BC: I certainly can draw one, Beijing Guoan is shite this year.

CW: Ha, well we just sat down I didn’t want to state the obvious and get our drinks off to a bad start!

BC: No, let’s get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Guangzhou Evergrande came to Gongti last Saturday and came away with a statement win, crushing the souls of all Guoan fans with a 3-0 victory.

CW: I caught some of the game and it didn’t look good for the men in green. Certainly not like the classic CSL clashes of recent seasons between these two teams. You suggested before perhaps this was the new “China derby”, not unreasonably. However looks as if that idea is not going to become reality for the foreseeable future.

BC: I was extremely pessimistic post-match, but in watching it again, Guoan didn’t play all that badly, they created a few good chances and the first goal was off a deflection. I don’t think either of us suspect Guoan to be at the bottom of the table when the season ends and if they can get a good result in the makeup game, they wouldn’t be sitting that badly, but it’s hard to see that with 3 matches without a single goal.

CW: Guoan’s start has probably been the most surprising aspect of the CSL season so far. It’s difficult to draw conclusions from the game. On one hand, Evergrande have always been strong and it is not the end of the world to be beaten 3-0 at home by them especially so early in the season when there is time to rectify problems. On the other hand, Evergrande themselves have struggled a bit up until now. Then again, they are second in the league after four games.

BC: Yes, well, I think the talk of Scolari’s hot seat has quickly gone away, at least for the time being, Zaccheroni is another matter, of course.

CW: Right, and I saw that Guoan’s board gave a very interesting sign about what they think of his performance so far, “liking” a fans weibo post calling for his head. What do you think about that?

BC: I think you have a very new board that doesn’t really know what its doing and has a lot of internal conflicts. There are a lot of things that are going on that leave fans scratching their heads, not sure if its coming from Zaccheroni or being forced on him “from above.” I think it’s way too soon to do something as radical as firing him, especially as its unlikely his fault, but there’s quite obviously some serious problems the club has that could pull the team down. This season was about getting back into the ACL and right now it seems that the best chance will be to focus on the CFA Cup.

CW: Yeah, I mean, three games in for Guoan, it’s to be expected some fans will make ridiculous suggestions to fire a coach, but to see a board member indicate they agree is a bit shocking.[

BC: As we’ve learned, nothing in China is shocking….So we have a re-energized Evergrande and continuing struggles for Guoan, where do you want to go next?

CW: My mind is really bamboozled by all the possibilities right now. There’s not really a clear pattern emerging. I would say Jiangsu seem to have hit the ground running with their big money signings. Although interestingly Ramires and Teixeira weren’t on the scoresheet and they had to rely on local talent to win in Henan last weekend.

BC: I think that’s going to be the case a number of times throughout the season, you can’t win if you only rely on two players, they’ll need other guys to step up. I do think it seems Jiangsu has got things worked out, we talked last week that Henan away can be difficult and they did exactly what was needed of them, taking all three points.

CW: It’s not an easy place to go. It’s a cliché but it’s true. I’d imagine Jiangsu are laughing at the moment comparing the money they got for Sun Ke, what they spent on Ramires et al, quality-to-price ratio, and where they are sitting in the league.

BC: It’s a good start for them in the league. I almost think if they get knocked out of the ACL, it will be a good thing for them. I have a feeling we’ll be talking a lot about them a little later in our discussion. Your hated Shanghai SIPG did a good job crushing Liaoning over the weekend.

CW: That was one of the more surprising results of the weekend. Shanghai International Port Group have confused everyone by playing well in the ACL but floundering in the CSL. Seems they have turned the corner. Then again Liaoning aren’t the strongest team going.

BC: Right, but it seems like a collective sigh of relief sort of situation and one that could mean things have gotten better. In any case, made for an interesting night in Shanghai, as did the rivalry match between Shenhua and Shandong.

CW: It was one of those rare 0-0 games which was actually pretty entertaining. There weren’t an awful lot of clear cut chances but the teams were both going at it and it did feel like a typical Shandong – Shenhua game of old, it was interesting that the North Terrace sang non-stop for the last 20 minutes trying to will the ball into the goal. I have to say I have not seen that level of prolonged intensity on the north terrace before, it was something special which was talked about on the usual channels a lot in the days afterward.

BC: Yes, seems like there has been a real improvement in the ambience at Hongkou this season, I saw clips of the fans as the match got into the final stages and it was impressive. I seem to be seeing a lot of talk about an incident involving Yang Xu, what happened there?

CW: He was booked around the middle of the second half for a careless challenge which saw him stand on a Shenhua players leg who had went to ground. Then a couple of minutes later something similar happened and Yang appeared to kick Li Yunqiu who was on the ground. The referee talked to Yang for a bit then didn’t give him a second yellow. I saw the replays, looked like the ref chickened out of sending him off.

BC: Hmm, it definitely sounds like it, perhaps a double standard for an important national team player.

CW: It wasn’t totally conclusive since the reply didn’t have a good angle. In general it wasn’t a dirty game. Speaking of the crowd again Wang Dalei and Dai Lin greeted the terrace again at Hongkou, wearing fans Shenhua scarves, Dai Lin even produced a number 5 Shenhua jersey, and the north terrace chanted “come home” to Wang very loudly and continuously. Given that its been a couple of years now since they left, to be very frank I couldn’t help but wonder what Shandong supporters would make of this spectacle.

BC: It’s interesting as neither are Shanghainese, but both spent a significant part of their careers at the club and grew up into the players they are now. I think it has to sort of make Shandong fans wonder, but I think their current loyalty is definitely to Luneng.

CW: The point with them is that they are both married to Shanghai girls, in Shanghainese eyes once you marry into Shanghai you are seen as semi-Shanghainese yourself. Indeed I have experienced this phenomenon myself personally and was a little surprised by it. I suspect it is similar elsewhere in China. I don’t think anyone would doubt their loyalty, Wang in particular is an outstanding professional in my view, but if you were a Shandong fan would you not be thinking it was a bit unnecessary? They said their goodbyes to Shenhua already and are Shandong players, much as I was happy to see Wang in particular making his feelings about Shenhua clear, there’s not really any need to do this again it’s been a while now.

BC: That’s a good point, I think the first time back it’s okay, but after that, it’s probably time to move on, at least for most players. Did they do a lap around the stadium or just the north end? Perhaps its just because of the proximity of the away end and the north end…

CW: Just the north end, yes you may be right, I do think it was convenient as it is next to the away area, perhaps they felt unable to ignore the north terrace. But just seems inappropriate to me. However according to my sources, Wang would jump at the chance to come back, I’m sure his wife would much prefer to live in Shanghai than Jinan. However, he signed a 5 year contract, now he is in year 3 of that. It’s insane, as a Shenhua fan his departure was definitely the worst thing the club ever did, we can thank Zhu Jun for that.

BC: Anything else from the last weekend or is it time to look ahead?

CW: Yeah that’s about it really. Looking ahead to this weekend, seems Shenhua’s visit to Nanjing is the “game of interest”, do you agree?

BC: It’s certainly my number one, always an exciting clash, all the money involved adds even more to it.

CW: Yeah with the rise of Shanghai International Port Group, some people forget this is also a derby, a Yangtze Delta one. It will be interesting to see how Suning’s money changes the dynamics here, the rivalry has always been a little one-sided up till this point, Shenhua fans tend to look down on Jiangsu and not see them as worthy rivals. However the CFA cup final defeat last season, and now big Jiangsu money, make this a very intriguing clash. I will be there.

BC: Yes, it’s an easy away trip to make and either way, there is always a large away contingent. Shenhua have faced a few tests against SIPG and Shandong, but this will be by far the biggest as to how much they have improved. For Jiangsu as well, I don’t think it’s over the top to say it will be the hardest opponent they’ve faced this season, any thoughts on which way this one goes?

CW: Very tough game to call. There will be a huge crowd for this one, Jiangsu of course have been getting bigger turnouts this year so far, and they already were one of the better supported sides in the league, I can imagine their fans are well up for this one. But Shenhua always travel in big numbers as, in China terms, it’s just up the road. Not many teams not in the same city are closer. It is Shenhua’s biggest test. But also probably Jiangsu’s as well. Shenhua haven’t started particularly well, but the team is starting to gel together, and Guarin looks like he could be one of the CSL’s best imports this season as the last few games he has totally run the show. My prediction? Argh. I am going to go for 2-2 in the grand tradition of how these games have gone before.

BC: It’s certainly going to be an entertaining match, especially in a week of duds overall. I do wonder what the first ever Hebei derby is going to be like.

CW: Yes an intriguing prospect. Just wondering how it works since Beijing is basically slap bang in the middle of these two team’s home cities.

BC: Yeah, its not exactly a traditional setup and also most of Shijiazhuang’s fans used to be fans of Hebei CFFC when it was called Hebei Zhongji and played in Shijiazhuang, so not exactly an intense rivalry there.

CW: But there were some Shenanigans related to this at least week’s Chongqing game, right?

BC: Yes, and oddly it seems tied to the Hebei Zhongji days, some dirty play by current Chongqing player Wang Dong, who was playing for a Shandong side at the time, just a bit of Chinese style aggro outside the venue, nothing to write home about, but seems a few minor injuries. I think with that in mind, we can expect a very harmonious match this weekend.

CW: It was quite a surprise to see such goings-on over something like that.

BC: Chongqing fans saw it as an affront against their player, but its hard to imagine a hundred or so of them wanted to start something with a few thousand Shijiazhuang fans, but who knows, weird incident all around. Of the other matches, I think the Evergrande-Henan clash is a little interesting, even though its in Guangzhou. It’s the rainy season down there and supposed to rain all day today, so pitch could be in a pretty sorry state, which would help Henan. It’s one of those matches that could be 1-1 or Evergrande could stampede to a 4-0 type victory.

CW: I think Evergrande will make short work of Henan. In fact I am fairly sure Evergrande are coming into form and will now make an assault on the top of the table. I hope I am wrong however.

BC: I think it depends on what condition the pitch is in as it tends to pour down buckets in Guangzhou and that pitch doesn’t drain well, it could make the difference and give Henan a chance, but maybe I’m just being overly optimistic.

CW: I think Evergrande are the kings of wet pitch play. It’s interesting how games are never postponed no matter how much rain there is, isn’t it?

BC: I like it that way, you gotta play no matter what, it makes for some interesting matches. I think things in Shandong will be pretty interesting, Yanbian have shown they can play against anybody and currently sit one point above Luneng, with the way things are going for Shandong, this could be a continuance of their struggles.

CW: I think it’s probably the right thing to do, there aren’t too many games where there is a crazy amount of rain. I think Shandong will do ok against Yanbian, but it is an interesting game.

BC: Certainly it will be a good test for both sides to see where they are at, should be a fun one.

CW: So, something interesting about a game taking place not long after we will down these pints – Shanghai International Port Group’s match against Guangzhou Fuli is kicking off at the bizarre time of 3.30pm on a workday afternoon. Can you guess the reason?

BC: Set up for a concert this weekend?

CW: Good try, but no. Care to have another go?

BC: I wouldn’t think its due to the ACL, as SIPG’s spot in the next round is pretty much assured.

CW: It is related to the ACL. It took me a lot of time to find out, but after extensively searching media reports, I was none the wiser. I asked someone inside the club. Even they didn’t know at first. But they came back and said its because Evergrande and Shanghai International Port Group both have ACL games on Tuesday so both want to play on Friday to give maximum rest time. And…. the TV companies want to show both Shanghai International Port Group’s and Evergrande’s games separately, so…

BC: And yet by playing it in the middle of Friday afternoon, it will be on tv, but who will be watching it? It’s really shocking that this would be allowed, especially considering how the tv deal for the league still hasn’t been fully worked out and what would have otherwise been a well attended match will end up with next to nobody in the stadium.

CW: Yeah. It’s just yet another “fuck you” to the fans. I mean, at the very least why not play it a little later? Say 5pm? That way I’m sure more fans would be willing to knock-off early on a Friday afternoon and get to the game, then they could show the Evergrande game later. There’s just no imagination around here sometimes.

BC: Incredibly frustrating to hear about and if I was an SIPG or R&F fan, I’d be all the more pissed off about it, but this is what we’ve become accustomed to here in China. Well, we talked about teams that were struggling, Guoan travel to Hangzhou for the one game each year they won’t wear green. It seems Yilmasz may make his debut, will be good to get him in the lineup and I’m optimistic that this could be where Guoan rights the ship, but Hangzhou has always been a tough place for Guoan.

CW: Yes, I am intrigued by this game actually, Guoan really need to take something from this game to avoid crisis mode. The defeat to Evergrande in the last ground wasn’t all that unexpected, but Hangzhou have had a few decent results this year, notably beating Shandong, it would be a foolhardy man who makes a clear-cut prediction for this game.

BC: Hangzhou is a hard side to figure out, especially the way they jumped off to a quick start against Shandong. They’ve won both matches at Huanglong this season (while losing the two played on the road), that combined with Guoan’s struggles there has me concerned that we’re looking at a draw and Beijing’s struggles continuing.

CW: I think a draw is a decent prediction. Either way I am sure Guoan will not be in the relegation zone come the end of the year.

BC: If this is the point Guoan is at now, where a draw is a good result against Hangzhou, then they are a team fighting to avoid relegation. I’m holding off judgment though and hoping this will be when Zaccheroni’s genius is finally shown. So I think that’s about it for the league, do we want to touch on the World Cup qualifying draw that took place this week?

CW: Yes, pretty good draw for China I think, avoiding Australia and Japan.

BC: Stuck with Qatar, though, that might be an issue, especially if you write off the matches against the top 2 sides and just hope they finish 3rd, but there’s no “perfect” group or way to think about it. At this point, you’ll get tough teams no matter what, China’s group looks okay, they have a shot, now it’s up to Gao to get them ready, plenty of time between now and the start of qualifying.

CW: Maybe now that Qatar isn’t the top team to beat, China may find getting three points from them a bit easier?

BC: One can hope…It’s a tough group, but there is no easy one and I don’t think it’s out of the question that China could finish 2nd or at least 3rd in the group, but it’s going to take a lot of work and Gao will need to put together the right side. Good luck to him, it’s a tall task.

CW: It is but China have some chance. At the very least I hope results at least go the way that they are not out of the running early. I think aiming for 2nd is a realistic goal even if we may not be certain they can definitely achieve that.

BC: I’m looking forward to it! Well, mate, think that brings this pub to a close and we didn’t even add our two cents on next week’s big ACL draws or the Chinese government’s plan to take over world football. Crazy how much there is to talk about in Chinese footie these days….

CW: Yeah. I just am impressed with how they can plan for 2050 but not a few weeks in advance to avoid having to move games to 3.30pm on workday afternoon so people who just happen to be off work that day can stay at home to watch on TV.

BC: Don’t think, just drink! Cheers mate!

CW: You’re absolutely god-dammed right. Cheers!

What do you think?

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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