This week’s North Terrace News is brought to you by Dylan Shi, who has been following Shenhua across the length and breadth of China to bring you the latest insights and developments
When Saturday finally comes…
Yes, finally. The day we’ve all been waiting for: the year’s first Saturday at Hongkou. These Saturdays are going to be as rare as horsefeathers this year, so don’t miss it.
Another year, another newly-named opponent
Tianhai are a club who have been through considerable tumult in the past few years. In 2015 they were taken over by Quanjian Nature Medicine, who rebranded the club for the 2016 season, naming them after themselves, replacing the badge with one representative of the company and changing the colors to sky blue. They embarked on a spending spree we’re all familiar with, breaking the domestic transfer fee record to bring Sun Ke to the second division. They won the League One title and changed the colors to red for their introduction to the CSL in 2017.
After more furious spending, it all started to go wrong in August as Axel Witsel left for Borussia Dortmund and Anthony Modeste simply left the country while still under contract, alleging his wages had gone unpaid. Quanjian Nature Medicine were indicted in December and their pyramid scheme came to an end as owner Shu Yuhui was arrested in January on charges of defrauding the elderly both chemically and financially and of wanting to sign Cristiano Ronaldo. The exodus of expensively acquired players continued as Zhao Xuri, Liu Yiming and Zhang Xiuwei departed.
The Tianjin FA took over the club, changed the name to Tianhai and changed the colors back to sky blue. Since then, endless rumors have been swirling about the club, mostly along the lines of its being a de facto national team youth development vehicle. The confirmation of former Shenhua goalless draw specialist Shen Xiangfu as manager, fresh from his assignment with the CFA’s U-25 military camp, certainly doesn’t help allay these rumors. Some speculate that if Tianhai finish in the bottom two the CFA will simply decree they will not be relegated. Just this week, captain and goalkeeper Zhang Lu (not that Zhang Lu) had to come out and refute rumors of unpaid wages.
In my opinion, Tianhai are a case study in why there should be better oversight of corporate club ownership and why these owners shouldn’t just be able to slap a new name on a club every few years. Quanjian Nature Medicine have left Tianhai more or less identityless, destroying all of Tianjin Songjiang’s history in the process. Hopefully the CSL allows them to be relegated out of sheer mercy.
The only team without four foreigners
After Alexandre Pato bought out his contract, not wanting to be part of the Tianhai project (whatever it actually is), Tianhai became the only club in the CSL not to employ the full allowable complement of four foreigners, and two of their three are on loan. These are the piranha-hating Alan, from Guangzhou Hengda, and pint-sized winger Renatinho, from crosstown rivals Fuli. In fact, altogether eight of Tianhai’s squad are there on loan.
Tianhai do still have a number of decent players left over from Quanjian’s TCM money, like Sun Ke, Pei Shuai, Yang Xu, Zheng Dalun, Mi Haolun and roly-poly playmaker Wang Yongpo. They also have former Shenhua winger Song Boxuan, who, incredibly, since returning to his native Tianjin last year has made only three appearances due to persistent injuries.
Overall, a totally confusing squad.
Tianhai are, along with Henan, one of the only two teams yet to win this year, and if “winless side come to Hongkou” aren’t the most terrifying five words in the English language, I don’t know what are. (I kid. They’re “honey, I think I’m pregnant.”) They did hold Anagrams to a goalless draw (or “Shen Xiangfu special,” as it’s known) in their last outing, so there’s surely quality in this nonsensical squad.
Chinese football political as ever
On the Shenhua front, it’s all patriotic fervor this week, as yesterday afternoon the club’s Party representative submitted Liu Ruofan and Zhu Chenjie’s applications for Party membership and took them along with N’Doumbou to the site of the first Party congress in Xintiandi.
Liu Ruofan reportedly hopes that membership will allow him access to a top military hospital where he might receive better treatment for his ligament issue. N’Doumbou was brimming with pride for his people’s achievements, shrewdly observing that without the Party, there would be no new China. Zhu Chenjie just likes to Party.
Speaking of youngsters, apparently Shenhua currently lead the league in use of U-23 players, playing them for 1186 minutes already. That’s 309 minutes more than second-place Beijing Renhe. Cong Zhen alone accounts for 498 minutes, making him the league’s most-played U-23.
Last time out: Lesser spotted goalie Shen Jun makes shock appearance
There was some surprise at two omissions from the team in Wuhan: Li Shuai and Guarin. Some reports have it Li was carrying a minor injury while Guarin was sick, and that both should be ready to play tomorrow. Other sources say that both were simply left out as part of Flores’ supposed rotation policy, possibly based on his reputation for using a large number of players during his time at Watford. Whatever the truth, Li’s absence meant Shen Jun’s first appearance in goal in 1667 days and there’s been lots of talk about rotation.
Team news: heavy rotation
There’s even a rumor that Ighalo may be left out for the sake of rotation and to surprise Tianhai–Ighalo who’s found the net in every match since we failed to score in our derby day opener and whose six goals had him top of the scoring charts until Zahavi’s hat trick earlier tonight. Some believe that rotation is necessary to keep the foreigners happy and that it’s Ighalo’s turn to miss out, meaning an all-Hispanophone foreign contingent.
Ighalo sounds sanguine about the prospect, saying that he hasn’t gotten fully up to speed since joining in mid-February and missing winter training, and that Flores told him on arrival that he wouldn’t be guaranteed a starting place. Competition for places is great, but I don’t see who can replace Ighalo. I also don’t see how dropping your top scorer is clever, or how that could surprise the opposition when the media are talking about it, or what Romero has done to keep his place beyond running a lot and taking potshots.
As we haven’t kept a clean sheet yet, there was reportedly extra focus on defense in training this week, with the team divided into defending and attacking units to get the defenders singing from the same hymn sheet.
Our defense should be boosted by the return of Bai Jiajun from his customary post-derby suspension, which should see him take his place on the bench alongside Sun Kai while Li Peng, N’Doumbou and a bao’an comprise a freshly rotated three-man back line.
Let us witness the Shenhua erection!
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