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SIPG’s Ahkmedov’s suspended for criticizing referees as Shanghai derby and ACL loom

Shanghai SIPG

Xujiahui Communique – The Shanghai SIPG column

Your regular update on all things Shanghai SIPG. This week we are focusing on Odil Ahkmedov, whose free speech wasn’t so free – it costs him RMB 10,000 and two matches.

Interview on Russian TV lands midfielder in hot water

The CFA apparently has a lot of free time on it’s hands and they’re using it the way we all do – watching Russian television.

Last week, aired an interview with Uzbeki national team and SIPG midfielder Ahkmedov as part of their run-up to the China-Uzbekistan World Cup qualifying match, and the former Krasnodar midfielder had a lot of complimentary things to say about Chinese players, the atmosphere at Chinese matches and the future of Chinese football.

But the CFA, like a stray dog spotting a rat dragging a steak outside Hai Di Lao, had eyes for only one thing: Ahkmedov’s comments about Chinese referees and the CFA itself.

To wit, Ahkmedov said, “In China, the referees are weak…. Almost every match, there are some strange decisions against us. Well, not strange, just wrong. A clean goal is not counted, an obvious hand ball in the area is unseen, almost anything in our own area is called against us. It’s just incredible.

“Correctly, (SIPG coach André) Villas-Boas said after the defeat at (Tianjin Quanjian), ‘Today the worst team on the field were the referees.’ That is true in most matches in China.”

Ahkmedov didn’t stop there.

“Maybe the referees just do not want Shanghai to become a champion. Maybe. Probably, many want our main competitor, Guangzhou, to be champion.”

Then the CFA went out and demonstrated that Ahkmedov was correct by suspending him, benefitting mostly, of course, Guangzhou. Just like the eight-game suspension of Oscar for kicking a ball did, and just like the previous two-game suspensions of Villas-Boas (twice), Hulk and Wu Lei did.

What is the CFA and who do they serve?

While the previous suspensions were all for things done on Chinese soil, in front of Chinese media (despite which, make no mistake, they were administrative actions that were incompetent, weak and insecure), this one stands out. The interview was in Russian. Aired in another country. And what Ahkmedov said is widely accepted as true or at least plausible by almost all knowledgable Chinese football fans.

The CFA and FIFA must come to a reckoning about this. Either the CFA is an arm of the Chinese government, applying the same standards of democracy and freedom that it applies to all of it’s citizens, and FIFA must consider whether to cut ties with the CFA as incompatible with FIFA’s mission, or the CFA is not an arm of the Chinese government and FIFA must sanction the CFA and demand that it accept the right of it’s players to express themselves about the sport.

At least before the suspension, Ahkmedov was a fan of Chinese fans and players. And especially his coach.

Ahkmedov is fully on-board with Villas-Boas. “AVB has only one philosophy — to be a champion. He is loved in the team. I have not seen such a cool coach-player relationship for a long time….

“In planning for matches, Villas-Boas is a very strong coach. Before every match… AVB tells us in detail about the opponent, about the game of every football player, shows us video. He has a full dossier on all players. In short, Andre considers everything.”

He thinks foreigners are a key to the development of Chinese football.

“On my first day in Shanghai, I went to training, looked at the local players and thought, ‘Do good Chinese footballers exist at all?’ But, fortunately, I was wrong.

“On each team, there are four to five good foreigners. They really stretch the Chinese players. (At Shanghai, after) a few months side by side with Hulk, Oscar and our other stars, the Chinese players began to play much stronger. Now, the Chinese players do not spoil the picture.

“Sometimes in the Russian Premier League, Russian football players, realizing that they will still keep their job, relax. In China, everyone plows like a damn. Always. For six places in the field, the Chinese are very tough and compete with each other. Everybody wants to play football very much. Therefore, I am sure that in five years, the level of local kids will greatly increase.

“Especially, I repeat, if they have someone to learn from.

“(For example,) Ricardo Carvalho is not just a player of Shanghai SIPG, he is a real coach for all players.”

Ahkmedov likes Chinese fans.  “Twenty- to twenty-five thousand fans, at least, watch (SIPG’s) games from the stands. Is this not a great football atmosphere? All our matches give pleasure. I can not say that I’m not interested in playing football in China…. I sometimes miss European cups. But in general, football is loved here, so football players are happy.

“In Shanghai, I already know the fans because the people of Shanghai are crazy about football. Hulk, by the way, gave me a lot of useful advice when I just moved to SIPG. In general, Shanghai really is great. Football in China is not exotic at all.”

What’s ahead for SIPG in the CSL and ACL:

Saturday, September 9 – at home against hapless Tianjin Teda, which faces relegation and hometown irrelevance. This match is unlikely to help Teda with either. Ahkmedov will serve the first match of his suspension in this one, but after two tense games for Uzbekistan in World Cup qualifying, a day off here might not be the worst thing for him. Wu Lei, who had a hat trick of huge misses for the Chinese national team against Uzbekistan, and is likely to go most of the way in the heat in Doha, will endure a real test of his fitness if AVB decides to play him. Hulk, Oscar and Elkeson had the international break off.

Tuesday, September 12 – Surprise! It’s going to be hot and wet in Guangzhou for the return match in the Asian Champion’s league quarter-final. SIPG, of course, has the 4-0 lead. Evergrande gets an extra day of rest, but one goal from SIPG puts Guangzhou out of their misery. Ahkmedov is eligible to play, and SIPG and Evergrande can both play up to four foreigners; unfortunately for Guangzhou, none of them will be named “Paulinho.” They’re outgunned until they can reload in the next transfer window.

Looking ahead in the ACL, Kawasaki Frontale has a two-goal lead on Urawa Red Diamonds in the Japanese quarter, and all four Middle Eastern teams — Persepolis (Iran), Al Hilal and Al Ahli (Saudi Arabia) and Al Ain (UAE) are level going into their return matches.

Saturday, September 16 – The Derby, at Shanghai Stadium. Who knows which Shenhua will show up? Will it be the one that beat Shandong 3-1 in Jinan in the FA Cup and handed a historical beatdown to Liaoning, 8-1? Or will it be the one that has lost five of six matches to the top four teams in the CSL, was humiliated by Brisbane Roar in an ACL qualifier, struggled against League One Shanghai Shenxin in the Cup and is one of only three teams in the CSL this year to lose to Teda?

The last match went 3-1 for SIPG at Hongkou, with goals for SIPG from Hulk and Wu Lei. AVB, still in his pre-suspension rebel period, pulled 19-year-old Zhang Huachen after 8 minutes of that one.

Carlos Tevez, who has pronounced himself healthy after a trip to Argentina for a special massage (what, he couldn’t find one of those in Shanghai?), will probably be in the line-up for Shenhua. Ahkmedov will be serving the second game of his suspension.

American expat rooting for Shanghai SIPG, because they're the Oakland A's to Shenhua's San Francisco Giants.

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