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Youth r(e)volution: Shanghai Shenhua’s player ratings 2018

It was an uneventful season for Shenhua with no notable results all year other than a humiliating exit from their defence of the CFA cup away to 3rd tier Nantong, and exiting the Asian Champions League at the earliest opportunity for the second year in a row. The Hongkou men then went on to play out a season of textbook mediocrity with finish of 7th in the league.  WEF founding editor Cameron Wilson returns to North Terrace News to rate a squad which developed in an interesting direction.

Coach

Wu Jingui5/10 CSL Record: (W10, D8 L12) 

As your correspondent said last year, Wu was fine for a role as caretaker manager but nothing more and this season bore this out. The humiliation in the CFA cup away to Nantong will always be a terrible stain on his record. For the first ever cries of “xia ke” (resign!) were heard for the man in his 4th spell in charge of the club after a run of bad results mid-season. Despite Wu knowing Shenhua inside out, he didn’t get the best out of his players even if his hands were tied to some extent by a limited squad. He did score a plus by clearing out some of the massive pile of deadwood at Hongkou, but it wasn’t enough to make 2018 a success for Shenhua. Chances are the club will bring in a foreign coach again for next year so he looks to be about to move upstairs yet again.

Goalkeepers

Li Shuai4/10 Appearances 33, Goals 0

Still pulled off some good saves and his experience often gets him out of trouble. But at 36 Li’s starting to get himself into such trouble more and more. Fine as a backup keeper but the club desperately need a solid new glove-wearer.

Qiu Shenjiong – 4/10 Appearances 5, Goals 0

Qiu’s long-standing weight problem made a return this year, being embarrassingly out of shape on the few occasions he managed to crawl onto the pitch and make the club look amateurish. Managed to make his 100th appearance for Shenhua this year – in his 12th season at Hongkou.

Defenders

Wang Lin – 3/10 Appearances 8, Goals 0

Barely featured this season and quite rightly so.

Eddy Francis – 7/10 Appearances 32, Goals 1

Shenhua’s Chinese signings tend to fall into one of three categories – a waste of space, no better than current squad, or modest upgrades who should have joined years earlier. Eddy is the last of those and surprisingly so. The 27-year-old half Shanghainese / Tanzanian had a wandering career before joining from Dalian at the start of this year, but ended up becoming a nailed on first team starter. Played most of his games at centre half but his could-be-better positioning and aerial ability show the fact that he’s played most of his career at fullback which is where he had his best games this season. Looks to be an important player for Shenhua’s defence for the next few years.

Li Yunqiu – 6/10 Appearances 16, Goals 0

Injury hampered Li again this year, as did the emergence of other competent fullbacks but when fit and playing regularly he showed he’s one of the better options the club have had at right back for a number of years.

Xu Yougang- 7/10 Appearances 12, Goals 1

Had a great run as first team right back for a good few games in the season before being commandeered by the CFA for their military band camp in October. Shocked everyone, including himself, by being the first Shenhua u23 player to score a goal since the new u23 rule came in. Against Evergrande no less. Solid option for the future and good enough to be a 1st team regular at least.

Jiang Shenglong- 6/10 Appearances 3, Goals 1

Gangly young defender aged just 18, his lofty stature not in keeping with his solid ball control. Impressed with a few run-outs at the end of the season, his rating would have probably been higher had he played as often as his young defensive colleague Zhu Chenjie.

Tao Jin – 2/10 Appearances 3, Goals 0

Tao’s bizarre Shenhua career – making barely 20 appearances in 10 years before suddenly becoming a first team regular at 31 – appears to be over. He was dropped to the reserves during the summer window and is being groomed for a coaching role. His biggest Shenhua contribution was creating a space for younger players to break through into.

Sun Kai – 1/10 Appearances 4, Goals 0

Struggled to get a game for Shanghai Shenxin before signing for Shenhua at the start of this year. Unsurprisingly he made zero CSL appearances and only appeared in the cups. Can anyone tell us why he was signed? North Terrace News can offer no explanation whatsoever.

Bi Jinhao – 5/10 Appearances 2, Goals 0

The former Henan defender suffered a brain haemorrhage back in April and no-one seems to know what was the extent of his condition or if he will play football again. There’s no official information on the club’s plans for him or his future, only that he’s out of hospital and was spotted at a friend’s wedding on social media. Losing him from the squad would be a blow as the club are a bit thin at the back but health must always come before anything else and WEF wish Bi all the best for his future whatever that may be.

Bai Jiajun – 7/10 Appearances 28, Goals 0

Bai is that most rare of things – a dependable Shenhua domestic player of national team-level quality who can always be relied upon to give it his best shot. A fixture in the side, he was his usual energetic and hard-tackling self in 2018.

Zhu Chenjie – 7/10 Appearances 15, Goals 1

A real find. At 17 years and 333 days old on his debut in July, he’s the youngest Shenhua player in history, and also became the club’s youngest ever scorer. Physically strong, composed and calm under pressure, there’s plenty of time to improve on the rest of his defensive game and hopefully he will learn fast as a first team regular.

Li Jianbin – 4/10 Appearances 7, Goals 0

This season was meant to be Li’s comeback year after surgery to correct a chronic shoulder problem. But things didn’t go to plan as a combination of not being fancied by Wu Jingui and more injuries ruined his year. Question marks hang over his long term future at the club which is a shame as he is on his day the best domestic centre half at Shenhua.

Li Peng – 6/10 Appearances 30, Goals 2

A much-maligned signing two years ago from third tier Qingdao Joonon, Li Peng finally showed he could be a useful squad player at least with his strength in the air and decent ability to get himself in the way. However, that such a limited defender who can’t do anything with the ball other than hoof it up the park or pass it no more than a couple of metres sideways shows how bad Shenhua’s defence is given he became a 1st team regular this year.

Midfielders

Gio Moreno – 6/10 Appearances 34, Goals 8

By Gio’s glittering standards, a very average year for the club legend. As an attacking midfielder in a squad with only one good striker his goals have been vital over the years but he scored just five in the CSL, his lowest ever haul since joining the club in 2012. Perhaps a hangover from missing out on the World Cup with Colombia? Gio is now 32 and it’s uncertain how much longer his Shenhua career will continue. However, despite an average season, Gio still managed to set new records – becoming Shenhua’s all-time top league goal scorer with 55 goals. He’s also now 9th on Shenhua’s all-time player appearances list, having pulled on the blue jersey on 167 occasions. Should he play most games next season, he’ll move up to third behind only Cao Yunding and Yu Tao.

Cao Yunding – 7/10 Appearances 21, Goals 3

Never the most consistent player he is nevertheless one of the most talented left-sided midfielders / forwards in the CSL. This year saw him miss a big chunk of the early season through injury but there’s no-one anywhere near his talent level at Shenhua in his position and he showed how much he had been missed after his return.

Sun Shilin – 6/10 Appearances 24, Goals 0

Mr solid and unspectacular in the midfield he’s often only noticeable when he’s not picked. A good foil for his more adventurous foreign partners in the middle of the park, he benefited from Qin Sheng’s departure mid-season.

Qin Sheng – 6/10 Appearances 15, Goals 0

His well-publicised issues with Wu Jingui led to his loan to Dalian in the summer window. Whether Shenhua can afford to lose one of its best domestic players is another matter but Qin’s energy and hard tackling were missed in the middle of the park. If Wu Jingui leaves the managerial position there is a chance he may return but it’s unlikely, especially as he’s on the wrong side of 30.

Fredy Guarin – 7/10 Appearances 31, Goals 9

Another player with a weight problem. And we thought the Argentinean BBQs were a thing of the past after Tevez left! Freddy gave more bang for his bucks in 2018, in more ways than one, and was pretty much the anchor of the entire team for much of the season, winning the ball often and rarely losing it. Not afraid of taking a shot from distance, or passing to his Chinese team-mates, he had a good year.

Zhang Lu – 4/10 Appearances 16, Goals 1

Somehow managed to get sent off two games in a row due to some bone-headed fouls, he also achieved something else which is fairly rare – to incur the open wrath of the support. A player of some ability, his problem is that he’s never been good enough to be a regular in Shenhua’s midfield, but isn’t a natural wide player or defender when played at right back. Don’t be surprised if he leaves the club before the start of next season.

Cong Zhen – 6/10 Appearances 15, Goals 0

Another good season for Cong but with almost all of his appearances coming off the bench he had little chance to really make his mark. Will have to oust Sun Shilin if he is to make real progress at Shenhua.

Oscar Romero – 1/10 Appearances 17, Goals 4

The worst foreign signing for quite some time. Romero clearly has talent but isn’t prepared to use it for the good of the team – constantly squandered chances and refused to pass the ball to anyone not from Colombia or Senegal. Had your correspondent roaring at his television in frustration during one or two away matches in which he failed to put Chinese team mates one-on-one with the opposition keeper. Surely won’t be back next year.

Rong Hao – 7/10 Appearances 24, Goals 1

Signed on-loan from Evergrande his quality shone through and he stuck out at Hongkou as someone who looked like a natural player. Seems he will not return in 2019 however which is unfortunate as it’s rare for Shenhua to sign Chinese players who clearly improves the squad.

Wang Wei 3/10 Appearances 8 , Goals 1

Finally made his Shenhua debut this year after sitting out his entire first season at Shenhua due to injury. It was hardly worth the wait – a completely pointless signing.

Li Xiaoming 6/10 Appearances 12 , Goals 0

Also finally made his Shenhua debut this year, after being loaned out again last year, despite being young player of the year whilst on loan at Henan the previous season. Things went a little better for him than for Wang Wei. Li looked very comfortable and composed at the start of the season, but chances evaded him as the season wore on in an area of the pitch, defensive midfield / defence with a lot of competition. Still time yet to establish himself and certainly looks to be someone who should be at least on the bench at this point.

Forwards

Mao Jianqing – 3/10 Appearances 15, Goals 1

Mao is a microcosm of Shenhua – so much potential, but wasted due to internal failings and years of messing around. In his prime, he was the future of not just Shanghainese but Chinese football. These days, he cuts a forlorn figure lurking on the fringes of things at Hongkou and going through a divorce played out publicly on social media. Mao was well past his best at 31 when he rejoined last year. This season he was visibly behind play on his when he did appear and your correspondent wouldn’t be surprised if he was not in the first team squad next season and in all honestly, he should retire now to save face.

Demba Ba- 4/10 Appearances 17, Goals 5

The rating above is one of the hardest things your correspondent has had to write. Pre-leg break, Demba was probably the finest striker ever seen at Hongkou, and that includes Drogba who never quite stayed long enough to stake such a claim. However, despite showing flashes this year of what made him a Hongkou legend in such a short period of time, it simply has to be said that Demba is a fairly pale imitation of the player he once was. Gone is the physicality and telescopic legs which brought down flying balls with one deft touch before instantly slamming them into the net. And gone is the fear factor he instilled in CSL defenders. Unfortunately Demba’s shots-to-goals ratio this year was no better than your average CSL striker. Indeed when you’ve only scored one more goal than Zhu Jianrong you know there’s something not quite right. Heartbreaking to say it, but if Demba can no longer make an impact at CSL level then it’s time to move on. Most likely he’ll leave the club over the close season.

Zhou Junchen – 7/10 Appearances 6, Goals 0

Took just 30 seconds to demonstrate his potential after coming on as sub in the second half of the season and battling to the ball to lay on a tap-in for Demba. Unfortunately in September he was banned by the CFA from playing for the China or Shenhua for a year after an incident in Thailand whilst he was representing the u19 team. Whatever he did, nothing justifies such a draconian ban, simple as that. Signs are that Shenhua have been negotiating to have this ban reduced and Zhou has been making a lot of harmonious noises in public appearances so far so fingers crossed. Chinese football has enough problems without the CFA banning its own most promising players for such outrageously long periods of time.

Obafemi Martins – 6/10 Appearances 7, Goals 4

Ironically rose to the fore after Demba Ba’s horror injury in 2016, this year Demba returned to replace Obafemi who suffered a long-term injury against Kashima in the Asian Champions League in April. However that was not before Martins showed his quality by bagging a hat-trick just a week previously against Hebei. As always, the Nigerian’s goals / minutes on the pitch ratio still impressively high. Left the club by mutual consent after his injury, as Shenhua’s 8th-top all time scorer with 32 goals in all competitions including THAT goal in the CFA cup final in 2017.

Zhu Jianrong – 6/10 Appearances 12, Goals 4

Zhu proved the doubters (your correspondent included) wrong to some extent with some decent performances in a target man role up front. He also had a very nice goal away to Evergande chalked off wrongly for offside. However the original critics of Zhu still have a point in that he was not better than the players the club already had. He’s also a very poor finisher, certainly compared with the club’s other Chinese striker, Gao Di.

Gao Di – 6/10 Appearances 15, Goals 3

Returned after spending 2017 on loan to Jiangsu. Unfortunately Gao Di’s career has gone the same way as almost every other Chinese striker out there – nowhere. It’s a pity as he’s always been a competent penalty box striker with a very good sense of where the goal is and good finishing skills. But it’s too late at this stage in his career for him to achieve much other than to remain a fringe player at the club to be used as cover. Pity, he could have done a lot better.

Liu Ruofan – 7/10 Appearances 27, Goals 1

Last season’s breakout star got off to a slow start as the realities of regular first team football took effect but he rallied in the second half of the season with some impressive performances and a very nicely taken first ever goal for the club. Still early days for Liu although he has the potential to be a Chinese national team regular at least. Poor in the air for such a tall player, he suffers from not knowing what his best position is – striker? Winger ? Attacking midfielder? Probably the latter would fit him best.

UK trained journalist and long-time Chinese football observer Cameron Wilson has been writing about Chinese football for over a decade...

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