Tientsin post: Reality sets in after an uninspiring purple patch, are these signs of struggles to come?
It seems as though the summer was a short one for Tianjin TEDA this year. After a nervy start to the season it seemed as though Tianjin’s only super league side (for now) had found their stride. Six games undefeated is quite the feat for a side tipped as potential relegation candidates especially with wins against the cash-rich Jiangsu and Graziano Pelle’s new club, Shandong.
However, good times have gone and it felt as though it was on borrowed time anyway. From the opening game this season (Home 0-1 loss to Guangzhou R&F), TEDA have played a very similar hand in every game conservative, counterattacking football only ever threatening from set pieces. It’s far from easy on the eye but it was effective, and Tianjin were comfortably in the top half of the table. Games were snatched by margins of no more than one goal in most cases. Okuka (Dragan Okuka, Head Coach of Tianjin TEDA) referred to performances as well drilled, organized but many in the faithful North Stand weren’t buying it.
Irrespective of the manner of the victory, wins accumulate points. TEDA are now five games without a win and are sliding down the table into what I suppose is the norm, a relegation dog fight. A far cry from the league runners up of 2010 squad. The form has fallen and an attack that has been relatively shy of goals looks divided and short of ideas. The midfield have been questionable prior to the seasons inception, no real investment the central positions has led to TEDA being carved up by various oppositions. Perhaps most harrowingly by Ex-Tottenham player Paulinho whom led the 0-4 drubbing by Guangzhou Evergrande at home. The one area you could argue that TEDA and Okuka seemed to have got right was the defence. The new foreign stars Junior and Jovanovic had been solid and inspiring, providing a good platform to build on until they were both scuppered by injuries. Jovanovic can be seen at training strapped to an ice bag and Junior is currently on the mend. Coincidentally they’re injuries fell at same point TEDA’s poor form kicked in. Perhaps they were saving Okuka’s blushes and now the chickens are home to roost. Questionable decisions have come from the bench all season, Zhou Tong’s efforts on and off the pitch make it hard to understand why he’s left an arse groove on the bench (maybe change this?). Hard times are upon the club, the worrying point is could we have predicted this? And are things really going to change?
Long time coming
For many of the North stand the glory days are gone, Martin O’Neill has left and they’ve been handed a string of Remi Garde’s with Randy Lerner pulling the strings in the backroom. It feels like a sinking ship, a problem made larger by Tianjin’s much wealthier younger rival Quanjian accelerated development. This begun after the golden 2010 season in which the club finished second in the Super league. The club had a youth system in place, a growing fanbase and investment from their backers. However, in recent years the youth system has been scrapped and investment in the Super league has increased exponentially. In the current window alone Shanghai SIPG currently hold the largest transfer record Hulk for around 55 million Euros, not to mention the dizzying salary Graziano Pelle has accepted in Shandong (now 6th high paid play in the world). TEDA’s spending conversely, has staggered in comparison. Flagship foreigners consist of the relatively unknown Fredy Montero of Colombia and Wagner a Brazillian journeyman. Both of which have been fairly ineffectual and have not lived up to expectations. I don’t think this is necessarily all the players fault, but can be partly attached to the clubs recruitment team. Number 10’s and flash wingers are not required in robust long ball football, they are luxuries and why TEDA bought them is a mystery. It’s probably down to attraction and glittery South Americans carry more appeal than a tough tackling midfielder, which has been sorely missed over the last couple of seasons. Unfortunately these issues of mismanagement, lack of spending and no youth progression suggest that TEDA are going backwards compared to the rest of the division and their local city rival, Quanjian (recently bought a youth team in the Northern city of Dalian in an american style affiliation). The next few years could be frustrating for the faithful groups filling the North Stand. This will be made no easier by Quanjian’s success, money and intent to stay.
Some light at the end of the Tunnel
On a positive note, the next five games are winnable and could provide enough momentum to finish comfortably. In addition to this we have a new mercenary to worship and stalk as he drifts around any of the millions of shopping malls Tianjin has to offer. Malick Evouna, a Gabonese winger with a healthy goal-to-game ratio of nearly one in two. Good business it would seem on the surface but the truth is Evouna’s has only ever plied his trade in the Moroccan and Middle Eastern leagues, which are far from reliable witnesses. Furthermore, its far from the head-turning names of Hulk, Jackson Martinez or Ramires that other fans across the country have been treated to this season. It’s almost certain Evouna will replace the want-away Brazilian Wagner, which again doesn’t fill the gaping hole in the middle of the park. Irrespective of this, he should provide pace and enthusiasm to a attack in need of new ideas. The next few games will set the tone for TEDA’s season and points are the target no matter how they are acquired.
Next game: Guangzhou R&F Away