This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at the powers that be intervening to help Guangzhou win CSL titles.
The other shoe has dropped.
Evergrande and Guo’an have been at the center of the use of naturalization to remake the Chinese national team, with a couple of outliers, Elkeson at SIPG being the main one.
Tuesday, it was widely reported that the newly minted Chinese citizen will be transferred to Guangzhou Evergrande, where Marcello Lippi and his diminutive henchman Fabio Cannavero are building a de facto national team.
Elkeson will join the also-naturalizing Ricardo Goulart to create an “all Chinese” attack at Evergrande.
The shifting of assets to Guangzhou was clearly part of Lippi’s deal to abruptly return as national team coach, but it leaves the CSL as the red-headed stepchild of football in China, it’s rebuilding reputation shattered.
SIPG’s best now Evergrande’s best
The moves, which arrive at precisely the halfway point of the CSL season, destroy the integrity of the title race.
SIPG is in a dogfight with Beijing Guo’an and Guangzhou Evergrande, the three teams separated by two points. SIPG has weathered the decision of Wu Lei to leave for Europe, Lyu Wenjun’s broken arm and Hulk continuing to age out as a goalscoring threat. No one (besides Oscar) has been more important to maintaining SIPG’s offensive pace than Elkeson.
Despite which, the team is letting him go mid-season to one of their main rivals, who themselves need some offensive punch after injuries to Talisca and Goulart. There is no possible reading of this other than SIPG being made an offer by the CFA/Evergrande – at this point is there any difference? – that they couldn’t refuse.
What’s SIPG’s next move?
It’s the nature of things in China that deals like this are struck far from the glare of public accountability. It’s not known, for example, how much money SIPG is getting for Elkeson, or whether SIPG was able to cut a deal as part of the transfer to avoid the 100% tax on a new foreign player.
Without getting more money from Evergrande than Elkeson is worth, or a wink-and-a-nod from the CFA to miss the tax, there is no way for SIPG to replace Elkeson with anyone near his level of ability.
This is especially true considering that as soon as his naturalization is complete, Elkeson won’t count as a foreigner. That makes him as valuable a property as there is right now in the CSL.
In news that is perhaps related, EPL bottom feeders West Ham were said yesterday by the BBC to have rejected a 22 million Euro bid from an unnamed Chinese club for Austrian national Marko Arnautovic. It was the second time in seven months, the British broadcasters said, that West Ham has refused to let him leave. Both times, the rumored destination has been SIPG.
(At the least, Arnautovic will be in China in two weeks for the Asian Trophy, when West Ham takes on Manchester City, Newcastle and Wolves in Nanjing and Shanghai.)
Should be really be leaving, Elkeson’s last moment in red will be one of his best: burying his penalty in the shootout against Jeonbuk Motors on a rainy night in Jeonju, South Korea. He also assisted on the 80th minute Hulk goal that kept SIPG alive in that match.
Elkeson departs SIPG with eight goals in the CSL this year and another two in the Champion’s League. Overall, in three-and-a-half seasons in red, he scored 36 CSL goals and another 15 in the Champion’s League. The decision last September by SIPG manager Vitor Pereira to play Elkeson full-time, ahead of Odil Akhmedov, is what jump started SIPG down the stretch on the way to their first CSL championship.
It’s evident that Elkeson, who turns 30 next week, has lost a step. Two weeks ago against Renhe at the Stadium in what turned out to be his last CSL match for SIPG, players in orange were passing him by like he was standing still.
But no player in the CSL is better when the ball starts pinballing around. He’s one of those guys who can find the ball in a crowd in the box and knows what to do with it when he does.
The derby, such as it is.
SIPG will enter the match at Shanghai Stadium on Saturday night with only three foreigners available. The psychological effect of their country’s FA intervening to squash their bid to repeat as champions remains to be seen, but even a morose Red Eagle squad has more than enough to beat Shenhua, which completed the first half with twelve, count ‘em twelve points in fifteen matches and a level of dishevelment that’s hard to believe.
SIPG has won six of the last seven times the two have played, outscoring the smurfs 20-5. The last time SIPG lost to Shenhua at Shanghai Stadium was in 2013.
It’s unknown how many people will be allowed to attend the match. The top attendance at Shanghai Stadium so far this year, as limited by authorities in a stadium that holds well over 50,000, is about 25,000.
In addition to the limits placed on total attendance, SIPG will itself likely circumscribe ticket sales to avoid a large turnout from Shenhua fans. Counterfeit tickets outside the stadium will be plentiful, expensive and hard to detect.
A reminder: this will be the first match this season with the new rules for foreigners and U23s. If SIPG had a fourth foreigner, he’d be eligible to be active and come on the pitch as a substitute for another foreigner. And both sides only have to use one U23, but there must be one U23 on the pitch at all times.
Odds and ends
Cai Huikang couldn’t play against Shenzhen because of yellow card accumulation — he got his fourth against Renhe the week before — but he also gave way to Yang Shiyuan against Jeonbuk. Yang is Pereira’s shiny new toy and may be putting an end to Cai’s seven-year run as SIPG’s central defensive midfielder.
Tuesday afternoon in Singapore, the Asian Champion’s League had it’s draw for the ACL quarterfinals, and SIPG hit the jackpot: they’ll face Urawa Red Diamonds, the worst team left in the tournament.
Normally a top side, this year Urawa is in 12th place in the J League, only five points from relegation and with a -8 goal differential.
The two legs of the match-up won’t take place until mid-August and mid-September.
Meanwhile, back on the pitch…
It’s impossible to imagine a team putting in less effort and still coming away with a CSL win. That’s the takeaway from SIPG’s Sunday night, 1-0, sleepwalk to three points in Shenzhen.
In the first half, Hulk missed a PK and Oscar missed probably the easiest header he’ll ever have, but just after halftime, Oscar took a nice pass from Zhang Wei, walked in and nutmegged the keeper for the match’s lone goal. SIPG brushed aside Shenzhen’s toothless attack the rest of the way.
Despite the scoreboard staying close all the way to the end, Pereira yanked Hulk in the 70th minute. Hulk remonstrated at first, but by the time he finished his slow jog off the pitch, he gave his manager the thumbs up. Hulk played 120 intense minutes in Jeonju on Wednesday and Shenzhen was hot and humid on Sunday night.
Highlights V Shenzhen
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