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Pub Talk: Up for the two-legged cup? And is Li Tie’s mid-week national team outburst inharmonious?

There’s a lot to talk about this week and no time to indulge in small-minded ridicule. Without further ado, order a pint and please join in the discussion at the bottom of the page.

SU: Good evening B, how’s it going?

BC: Everything’s made better when I’m here in the pub with a brew and the CSL is continuing its madness.

SU: I think so. What’s the most madding this week then?

BC: The whole Li Tie saga is hard to get my head around as to what exactly is going on there.

SU: Yes, I did read about this but I have to admit I would be lying if I said I was really sure what is going on. Can you fill the pubsters on your interpretation?

BC: In the post-match press conference over the weekend, Li Tie was angry about the national team camp being called this week. As his team has a busy league and cup schedule this month, he was angry about giving up his players during a non-mandated international break and, on top of that, previously he said his players were held back longer than needed before allowed to return. All of this sounds relatively sensible, however you will remember Li has been active in the national team coaching staff for awhile and was said to have some issues with the team leader. It’s been claimed that the CFA talked with the clubs and coaches about this additional training camp and everyone was in favor of it, but I guess Li didn’t get the memo.

SU: I saw his press conference – it featured unusually frank and direct communication for a Chinese media event. Li certainly was very upset about this issue. I think it is a tricky situation. I can understand the logic in the national team wanting their players to spend more time together. But it’s not like they are idling away when they are not with the national team. And as we have said before, China’s national team footballing problem are not due to a lack of training time together nor is there any sign that these elongated breaks gave any benefit. I would imagine most Chinese coaches would go along with the idea of national breaks, even if they secretly doubted they would benefit. I would imagine foreign coaches are unlikely to be in favour./

BC: Right, I can see why he’s angry and, this being China, I can see why he’s under attack and possibly even going to be suspended for it.

SU: I can see that happening, but it would be very wrong to suspend someone for having an opinion different to the CFAs, even before considering that his opinion is sensible. This is just the whole problem with Chinese football in my view – the top-down nature of everything here. They don’t understand that there are hundreds of professional footballers playing in the CSL and they all need to practice and play games on a regular basis, not just the “best’ ones in the national team. The top down domination here, which puts disrupts the entire league, doesn’t take into account that if you put all your focus on the national team, you lose sight of other important elements which directly support it. This week the headlines in the Shanghai media are “Shenhua’s busiest July in history – one month 8 games” – that’s not good for anyone and it’s a direct result of too many national camps and elongated breaks.

BC: You make some good points, though I wonder how calling out the national team in such a way would be treated in other countries. I don’t think it would lead to a match suspension, but a fine wouldn’t be a total surprise. The elongated breaks are a totally different subject that is worth discussing on its own, but I think the key issue here is that this isn’t a mandatory FIFA break and so I can understand his reticence, especially as the players are likely to return only a day or two before their match. There’s a ton of pressure for China to do well in their World Cup qualifying and so it’s no surprise there is heavy emphasis on that right now.
SU: It depends exactly what he said but I can’t really see fines being necessary elsewhere unless he used rude language or verbally abused someone. If he’s just saying it’s not fair the players don’t return to the club immediately after the international game, then I think it would be ridiculous to fine anyone anywhere for that. Maybe there is some beef between Li and the rest of the CFA as you said. Yeah it’s not surprising that there is this focus now, but there shouldn’t be, China is lucky to get this far in qualifying, nor is anyone expecting them to go any further. It’s a lack of realism and an objective view of the whole situation which is just gonna destroy everyone’s morale and have Chinese football beat itself up again when, in all likelihood, they don’t make it. Instead they should be enjoying still being in with a shout and just taking each game as it comes, they could do no worse. And in any case their next qualifying game is not for another two months, so I dunno what the fuck they are all getting to het up about.

BC: It’s certainly an odd situation and, to get back on the footballing track, you can understand Li’s frustration as the comments came after his side lost 2-0 to Shanghai SIPG, moving them into third place and, for all intent and purposes, out of title contention.

SU: Unfortunately there just doesn’t appear to be anyone who looks anywhere near being able to stop Evergrande, I think Li most likely was speaking out of frustration at falling further behind, yes.

BC: Yeah, we come to this point every week, but I think with SIPG beating Hebei and Evergrande cruising past Shandong, its Evergrande’s title and everyone else is just fighting for an ACL spot. Certainly that will be an exciting fight, and your lot have a shot in the race, but that’s not going to excite the fans.

SU: I don’t see Shenhua getting into the ACL to be honest. Until they find a way to not absolutely suck ass in every single away match they have ever played for the past half decade or so, Shenhua’s only say will be if they can beat the likes of Shanghai International Port Group or Jiangsu when they come to Hongkou.

BC: I was trying to give Shenhua some credit there and see what you have to say about it, but yeah, it strikes me that even in the ACL fight, its between SIPG, Jiangsu and Hebei and someone (Hebei?) is going to end up the odd man out.

SU: Shenhua are a modest improvement on last year but I still think they lack something domestic-wise compared to Shanghai International Port Group or Jiangsu. It’s not out of the question to qualify for the ACL, but again perhaps the cup offers a better route. I tend to think this year Guoan and Shandong’s struggles are going to make Shenhua look better than they really are. We have scored a lot of goals but they have mostly been against lower sides – last Sunday

SU: s game against Changchun a case in point – they are a very poor side.

BC: Yes, we talk about it pretty much every season, how there is very little the separates the middle of the table, Shenhua looks great sitting in 5th, but pretty much everyone from them down to Yanbian in 12th are about equally crap. I think Hangzhou and Changchun are just absolute shite, and who the hell knows whats going on in Shijiazhuang or especially in Shandong.

SU: Yes I was stunned to see Hangzhou beating Yanbian by such a big score. I can only assume the home side had an off day.

BC: It was a weird result from a weird weekend. And one of my biggest complaints from the weekend was the bad refereeing, Jiangsu was given a penalty despite the ball clearly hitting the Liaoning player’s back and Henan’s 90th minute winner against Guoan was scored in extremely controversial fashion after a classic 45 minutes of insanely frustrating time wasting on the part of the home side.

SU: Yes, some incidents which I have to admit I couldn’t quite understand. Again, refereeing is something we talk about a lot, I honestly feel the standards have gone down for some reason, match-changing decisions are gotten wrong on a regular basis I’m afraid.

BC: I think its time to start bringing back the foreign referees, something needs to change as things were supposed to be more professional and it just doesn’t seem the case. I think there are small steps, things that can be focused on, I know dissent (and thus crowding the ref, etc) was something that was announced to be cracked down on in the Copa America, it would be great if we saw that in the CSL.

SU: The CSL needs to do this immediately. The referees in general in football are not respected, I mean, much as we all get very annoyed at times, we have to just accept the decisions and get on with it. But all too often we see referees being pushed and shoved, or worse, and they seem to do little about it. It’s ironic when you consider the many things we have talked about before when we have seen players being punished for things which were pretty innocuous compared to jostling the ref.

BC: Very true, well we talk about boredom with the CSL, League One is incredibly exciting at this point, with 7 teams within 7 points of each other and arguably even 2 more sides who potentially could go up.

SU: League One is a lot more exciting. Really tough to call, Qingdao Huanghai and not Qingdao Jonoon at the top, Guizhou in second, Dalian Yifang in there, Tianjian Quanjian probably most people’s favourites.

BC: It’s madness in a good way. I haven’t seen enough to say who will go up, but for those bored with what’s going on in the CSL, picking a side in League One and following them ain’t a bad idea right now, it’s exciting stuff down there.

SU: Yep, totally agree with you on there, will be a thrilling race. Oh and I’d also be remiss not to mention that Shanghai Pudong / Shanghai Zhongyuan / Inter Shanghai / Inter Xian / Shaanxi Chanba / Guizhou Renhe / Beijing Renhe are in with a shout also.

BC: Nice shot at an old rival there, and on that subject its unfortunate the “Beijing derby” between Renhe and Beijing Beijing Enterprises Group is going head-to-head with the Jingjin derby on Saturday night.

SU: That’s a bit unfortunate timing-wise in a way, but that we are having the discussion only highlights that both teams don’t have an awful lot of their own fans.

BC: In fact Beijing-Tianjin was supposed to take place on Sunday, but it was moved up to Saturday to allow Guoan more time to prepare for the CFA Cup. Anyways, a missed opportunity there. It’s kind of hard for me to get up for any Guoan league match at this point as they are simply playing for pride, it’s all about the opening leg of the Cup on Wednesday when they face off with Evergrande.

SU: Tianjin are above you in the league at the moment – how can that be acceptable?

BC: Of course not only Tianjin but Shenhua as well, though Guoan has played one less match than both sides. While Shenhua have a slightly better shot at the ACL, let’s be honest, for both of our clubs they’ll end up somewhere between 5 and 10 by the time everything is said and done and nobody will remember where they finish. If they want to get into the ACL, it’s going to have to come through the CFA Cup and that’s all that really excites me.

SU: Most likely. However, I think your focus will be back on the league soon enough, can’t see Guoan beating Evergrande over not one but TWO CFA cup 5th ground legs, Evergrande have no reason not to take it seriously.

BC: It seems Evergrande didn’t get their way and the match next Wednesday won’t be moved, but I think you’re right, even though their focus will definitely be on the league title, this week and next they face Chongqing and Changchun, respectively, not teams that will strike them with fear, so they will be able to rest players for the Cup. For my money, the first leg in Guangzhou is absolutely crucial because I think Evergrande will be motivated to “put it away” then and there so they don’t need to worry about the trip to Beijing. Guoan has brought in a reinforcement who looks to be an impressive signing and the side has been playing better, so its possible. At the very least I don’t expect a beatdown like the one at Gongti earlier in the year.

SU: Guoan will certainly, or at least they should be very motivated. This game will give a good test of how they have moved on from Zacheronni and their early season woes. If it was just a one leg game, then who knows? Adding an extra leg to the cup at this stage is exactly what the CFA didn’t need to do. It detracts from the excitement of instant knock out which is what cups are meant to be around.

BC: Yes, I can sort of get why you’d do so for the semifinal and final, but even doing so for the quarterfinal is just total overkill (what a surprise!). Guoan is definitely better and if they can figure out how to score, it will be interesting. Again, its overkill, the CFA thinking a knockout competition is exciting enough as it is, why not add to it with more matches, but that really changes things if these ties quickly get out of hand.

SU: I also can see some sense in it for the final, the semi, well, just about, earlier is just wrong, especially with the fixture problems we just talked about earlier. Maybe if Guoan can edge it 1-0 in Beijing they might have a chance, but can’t see it.

BC: Again, I think its all down to how the first leg in Guangzhou goes, if Guoan can get a goal and keep things close, it would set up an exciting return in Beijing.

SU: Ah right of course its the other way around. Well, we will know the result of the leg this time next week.

BC: Of the Cup, Evergrande-Guoan has got to be the most exciting tie, though I do think it will be interesting to see what Quanjian is capable of against Shenhua, what say you about that one?

SU: I’d say Guoan – Evergrande is the more eye-catching tie but Shenhua v Quanjian certainly is very interesting, Shenhua often struggle against teams they are expected to beat and Quanjian will want to prove themselves, but worse teams than Shenhua have beaten Quanjin this year, certainly it would be regarded as a major failure if Shenhua didn’t make it to the next round.

BC: Yes and we talked earlier about how hot the battle is in League One, I think for a lower side, that’s gotta be where their focus is.

SU: Yeah. And it’s great to have the cup, especially with the league looking pretty dull this year.

BC: And on that note, the reason we’ve talked so much about the cup is because we’re not blessed with the greatest of fixtures this weekend, anything among the dreck that you’d like to talk about?

SU: Shandong v Jiangsu would have been more interesting but for Shandong’s position at the wrong end of the table, etc etc. I think the Jing-Jin derby is worth watching, but it seems you aren’t so excited about that.

BC: Don’t get me wrong, the Jing-jin derby is worth a watch, especially if you support one of the sides, but its just two mediocre sides facing off against each other. For me the individual Guoan matches are still worth watching, but previously a loss like the one to Henan, in the fashion they lost (down to a dodgy call) would have driven me up a wall, but this season, I’m more relaxed, I know that they aren’t going to finish in the top 3 or in the bottom 2, so it really doesn’t matter where they end up as long as they are improving and have an eye to the future.

SU: I know that feeling very well. Honestly I want to talk more about the CSL but just not feeling that inspired this week, perhaps the summer transfer window will shake things up and someone will make an attempt to keep up with Evergrande, but I really can’t see it.

BC: In that regard, there has been some interesting moves. I hinted at Guoan’s reinforcement, but Liaoning has also broken the bank in a way we’ve never seen from them before. Also, in a bit of breaking news, it seems nothing can go right in Jinan. Austrian international Martin Harnik just arrived in Shandong and has already left, it seems he might have failed his physical.

SU: Really. Sounds like a re-run of the Shane Smeltz fiasco of a few years ago.

BC: These things happen, but it has to be painful for Luneng, who just don’t seem capable of getting anything right at this point.

SU: It is. Also Liaoning is that official?

BC: Well, I don’t know if Anthony Ujah has undergone his medical yet, but he is definitely in Shenyang as we speak.

SU: In a way I am sad to see even lower CSL teams splashing the big cash, before I was always heartened to see some clubs able to do pretty decently without splashing obscene sums.

BC: I guess so, but at the same time, they’ve “only” spent 13 million euro on him, which is nothing compared to what the big spenders have done this year and its yet another top player coming to the CSL. Interestingly, despite what the stories we constantly see from the English media, it seems the past few seasons Chinese clubs have been looking to the Bundesliga more than anywhere else.

SU: It wasn’t so long ago 13 million Euro was an eye-watering sum for the CSL. How times have changed.

BC: How times have changed…If you believe the English media, Shenhua are in for Graziano Pelle for something like 45 million euro….

SU: I think the English media are full of shit.

BC: Haha, we haven’t even gotten to talking about Guoan’s new signing, but I think that’s a great note to end another week of pub chat on. The English media is indeed full of shit.

SU: I think I can certainly drink to that!

BC: Definitely! Cheers mate.


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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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