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Pub Talk: Can Guangzhou Evergrande ever be stopped?

The week the pubsters are back after roundly defeating evil hackers. Pull up a pue and join in the chant.

SU: Pub time again B, it’s been a while

BC: It certainly has, this is a crazy month with two major international tournaments going on and lots of CSL action, let’s get to it!

SU: Yes, not quite sure where to start, so last night’s results are as good a place as any. What I can say is, just when it looked in the past couple of weeks that Evergrande might not run away with it, things went their way last night.

BC: Yes, there is still plenty of competition for the five time champs, but considering we are almost at the halfway point, its difficult to see how they’ll not win the league.

SU: Indeed. It would take a real optimist to see it much differently from that. It’s funny because at the same time there’s some rumblings about Scolari being the right man for the job but I suppose that’s mainly a result of the ACL elimination.

BC: I don’t think that rumbling is anything to take seriously, he has the team playing relatively well. We’ve talked before about it being the year for someone else to finally win, Evergrande drew their previous two matches before Tuesday and yet still have a 5 point lead over the closest opponent.

SU: Yep. Speaking of which I watched their closest opponent last night, I would say that Shenhua appear to be Hebei’s bogey team.

BC: Yes, they were able to get a draw this time around, but certainly only 1 point in the two matches has to be a disappointment for Li Tie’s charges.

SU: It is by their standards. Last night’s match was the first time for many, many years I can remember Shenhua playing very well away from home, I think Hebei were a little fortune to get a point, that is saying something considering how critical I usually am of Shenhua away shows. I think though Hebei have made it look easy – buy some solid domestic players and blow a wad on serious foreign talent. Somehow it is working for them very well, in general.

BC: Its pretty simple, with the exception of a draw against Shijiazhuang & the two matches against Shenhua, they haven’t dropped any points they shouldn’t have. Outside of those matches, there was a draw against Jiangsu and a loss at Evergrande, they are doing what needs to be done. On the subject of bogey teams, Jiangsu only earned 2 points in 2 matches against Guangzhou R&F, that has to be a real disappointment down there, one would imagine the manager is in danger, much more so than Scolari.

SU: That’s pretty much it about Hebei, although I still am not totally convinced by them for some reason. Jiangsu’s honeymoon period is well and truly over….although they did notch up a big win over Shanghai International Port Group last week, even if it was fortuitous.

BC: Jiangsu seems to play down to their opposition and it doesn’t set them up well when they play Evergrande in a week. They’ve drawn R&F twice as well as Hangzhou and Shijiazhuang while losing to Tianjin. You aren’t going to win the league doing that. As for Hebei, they are “good enough” for the CSL this season. They have a good core of players and really play like a team. There are really only 2-4 sides that are as talented or more than they are and they make it a point not to drop against weaker teams.

SU: Jiangsu have a caretaker manager in place at the moment, it will be interesting to see who they bring in.

BC: Yeah, I forgot about that, it’s definitely an issue. There are a few open positions right now, Guoan being another one, where the team appears slow to bring in someone new.

SU: It’s a habit around here, have a local coach mop up the damage, but often for an extended period before someone foreign comes in and often doesn’t really do any better.

BC: Jiangsu’s move was confusing because of the timing, almost a week after their loss to Hangzhou. It would have made more sense to do it shortly after the loss and then bring in someone new during the international break, but perhaps their ownership purchasing Inter Milan meant they were overly distracted.

SU: Yes, so much going on there. I wonder if Petrescu was only kept in the first place because he won the CFA cup?

BC: I think they were so busy on building the team they forgot about the manager and then after spending all that money regretted who was running the show but it was too late. There were always rumors that a switch was coming, but after recent results it made it a must.

SU: So that’s that, three managerial changes already? Felix Magath coming in at Shandong is rather intriguing.

BC: Interesting to say the least, not sure how well that’s going to work out

SU: Shandong are really in a mess. I’ve been at a loss to offer much explanation there this season, but they seem to be getting worse. Easy to forget they are still in the ACL.

BC: Yes, its really hard to explain what’s going on there considering the talent in the team and with Jiangsu and Evergrande on the horizon, it looks like it will only get worse for them.

SU: Yeah. Presumably they will stabilize sooner or later, but I think it’s already too late for them to get near an ACL slot. Plus Shandong have these periodic off-seasons, I remember, I think it was 2012 they only went safe from the relegation zone on the last or second last round of the season.

BC: I think at 17 points outside of an ACL spot, it’s a safe bet that unless they can find a way to win it (or the CFA Cup), they aren’t going to be in the competition next year. I think we’ll eventually see them crawl back up the table, there is a lot of bad and they shouldn’t be among the sides going down, but I’d have to say it’s the biggest shock so far this season.

SU: It’s definitely been totally unexpected. How about Guoan? what’s going on in general?

BC: We’ve talked a lot about the issues they had and there are a number of things that caused their early season struggles. Right now, they’ve straightened things out for the most part beating up on some crappy sides, Xie Feng has them playing a better system and following his command. It will be interesting to see what the return of Renato Augusto from Brazil’s Copa America debacle will mean for the side. Xie had them playing well together, but Augusto is very much a sole operator who wants to do things himself, so it will be interesting to see if he can adapt.

SU: Sounds a bit like Gio Moreno.

BC: That’s actually a very good comparison, especially because they both also go dormant for long periods of time and are often guilty of moping.

SU: Yes, there’s been a lot of discussion about Gio at Shenhua. In many ways he represents many of the issues typical CSL clubs have with foreign players – someone who is much more naturally talented than their local team-mates or even some of their foreign ones. Players like this I feel have to be used carefully or they can disrupt the balance and flow of the team. Shenhua’s highly fluent midfield showing last night against the team 2nd placed in the CSL a case in point. Perhaps Augusto has a similar effect at Guoan, I’m not sure, but I think there are a few other Gios in the league.

BC: It’s just incredibly maddening because the vast majority of the time you just have a player moaning and whining and then you get that occasional few minutes of brilliance and have to wonder why you can’t see that side more.

SU: Again, you’re describing Gio perfectly. For me I am starting to think it’s time for Gio to leave Shenhua, players like him are good at lower clubs whose aim is to simply avoid relegation – the tactics literally are give the ball to the star foreigner and often this is enough to turn draws into narrow wins and narrow defeats into draws. But Shenhua is not a relegation-fighting team anymore. Last night was Shenhua’s best away performance for many years, yet Gio was not playing. So there has to be a point where you think that spectacular occasional flashes of genius are not worth it when you think of the wastage that is prevented by having a self-centered foreign player not on the pitch. Everyone still talks about Gio’s amazing overhead kick in the Shanghai derby in the cup last year. But where was Gio in the CFA cup final? He did nothing, so what was the point? At least Augusto is getting a game for his country still, that suggests his problem at Guoan may just be an inability to hide his frustration rather than out-and-out selfishness or not being a team player at all.

BC: His inability to hide his frustration is an issue with the national team as well, so its just his overall attitude. In any case, time for us to move ahead and look at this weekend’s matches?

SU: There’s a solid round this weekend, nothing spectacular, I would say Shanghai International Port Groups’ visit to Shandong is probably the most interesting even if Shandong are well out of the race as we said.

BC: On paper that one should have been an extremely tasty affair, but the way things are going has changed that but you have to expect them to turn it around at some point and this one might be when they finally do.

SU: Yeah this is the point of interest, it’s all about how far Shandong have really sunk and are they going to get it going again? This game will be the test of that.

BC: The new manager has now had the chance to gain a basic understanding of his players and so its time for him to start having an effect, if he’s able to.

SU: So many managers coming in and out of the CSL and so much understanding has to be undertaken before anyone can maximise their potential as a coach here. But the turnover of foreign coaches and players shows no signs of slowing.

BC: The line of thinking is always very short term, but thats not a surprise. Management spends money and wants to win now and so you get these situations where halfway through the season you’ve already had a number of coaches fired and we can expect lots of changes when the window opens next week. This goes on at two levels though, there are those teams who are doing it to win the league/avoid relegation & those who are happy to find themselves somewhere in the middle of the table and are just doing it to earn people more money.

SU: Yes, I really feel this commissions thing is getting embarrassing and reflecting badly on Chinese football now. It has gone of for years and it is glaringly obvious now that at many clubs, foreign players are signed and then released after just a year or even six months in many cases to make way for more signings which earn certain unscrupulous individuals a nice sales commission. Or lets just call it what it really is – a bung. I am hoping with the significantly increased profile of the game here, the outside world will notice how absurd it is to change up almost all of your players every season.

BC: It is what it is. This sort of thing goes on everywhere and until salaries go up internally and/or management gets stricter or more football people are involved, it’s going to continue. The reality is that there are probably 5-7 teams, if not more, who are perfectly okay with just finishing somewhere above relegation and have no aspirations to win the league or get into the ACL, these issues tend to be far more of a problem at these clubs.

SU: I don’t think it goes on everywhere, at least not to this extreme extent we see here. Although China is not alone in it by any means. It is a bit better in the upper echelons of the CSL as teams realise that some continuity is necessary if you want to win things. The teams you talk about who aren’t going to ever win anything are indeed the worst offenders. I think it’s part of the culture here though and the way business is done – everyone gets a cut that’s just how it is. That’s not compatible with the healthy development of professional football though, whether china likes it or not.

BC: It’s annoying for fans of a team like that, but I don’t think it has a huge impact on the growth of football here because it seems like a new, “legal” outlet for them to make money when previously they’d be involved in match fixing once they were “safe”, so from that standpoint, it’s better. I think one thing that would be done, it was proposed by someone who is a contributor on the site, is if they cut down the number of foreigners to 3+1, but if you’ve kept a foreigner for more than 3 or 4 (or whatever) seasons, you could keep him without counting against the number. Something like that would be a real move in the right direction, would get teams to keep their foreigners for longer, and wouldn’t produce the situations where a team is forced to choose between a long serving aging foreigner or upgrading to a younger, more talented player.

SU: Those are good points, one might say it is a less-illegal way to make money, it isn’t the most pressing problem facing the game as such but it shows that the people running the clubs are putting their own selfish personal interests before the club’s, so that undermines the whole thing. I do like the idea of foreigners not counting as foreigners if they stay for a certain period of time. Kind of like a two-way loyalty scheme. You might say it would be one less place for a Chinese player, but if its a foreigner who has put in the years in China contributing to the game, then that can only be a good thing.

BC: Right, and that’s why I would also propose cutting down the overall foreigner number to 3+1 so that you aren’t really taking a place from a Chinese player because in most teams you’d be adding one or at least not changing things from the current situation.

SU: Yeah as it stands there’s always an odd man out spending time on the bench. Certainly, I would not want to see the foreign player quota get higher than the current 4+1 unless it was for long-term club servants as you suggest.

BC: Even in that case, I wouldn’t be in favor of it, the number of foreigners should be going down, not up. On foreigners, Yoon Bit-Garam has looked very good so far for Yanbian, so much so he got into the Korean national side, will he and his teammates be able to deal with Evergrande? Will the trip to Yanbian put them off?

SU: In a word, no. Yanbian is new and they have the promoted team mojo thing going on, and they are a team many neutrals like to see when. However I think Evergrande will win in Yanbian. I hope I am wrong, but that’s how I see it.

BC: Yes, if this game was slightly earlier in the year, it might be a different story, but by now there is enough tape on Yanbian to know they’ll counter attack and where they are strong, but if the weather is inhospitable and depending on how the travel works out, you never know.

SU: It’s certainly not out of the question that Yanbian could spring some surprises on Evergrande. I didn’t know Yoon was called up to the Korean side. That is a good news story for the CSL in general.

BC: Yes, he scored a really pretty goal in one of their friendlies, I want to say it was the one against the Czech Republic.

SU: I didn’t see that either. I’ve been mostly following the Euros between CSL games at the moment. It is interesting to see the Copa America is also on at the same time, there is a feast of football fit for a king to enjoy at the moment.

BC: Indeed, its been a fun couple weeks so far and with the CSL going strong, its making it even better. Plus the transfer window opening is almost upon us, certainly will lead to a lot of madness.

SU: Yeah. My eyes just roll when I think of the transfer window. It just seems like a lot of people think big name foreign players is the only thing worth talking about when it comes to Chinese football. It’s like a bunch of old ladies gossiping about who is courting who, honestly I don’t really give much of a shit until the deal is done or at least there is substantial info on a deal and not just some “source”.

BC: Yeah, especially as China gets abused by foreign agents looking to bump up the prices for their players and so you see so much wild speculation, it gets boring fast, but the reality is that it will mean we’ll see a handful of new talented foreigners joining the league in the next few weeks.

SU: Yeah for me the novelty of big name players coming here has worn off. What I want to see if big name players coming who will be an asset to the league, make an effort to bond with the fans and take a genuine interest in the local culture. I realise that is beyond many, and I am not saying that should be the expectation, but I just want to see players coming here and energising the game in some way or another not only on the pitch.

BC: Definitely, cheers to that! Well, I think that brings us to the end of another pub.

SU: I think it does – another good drinking session is concluded.


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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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