This is your WEF home for all things SIPG. This week, Jeff Beresford-Howe looks at some of the same old same old and a shiny new toy as SIPG says good-bye to Elkeson, hello to Marko Arnautovic and cakewalks through the Yangtze River and Shanghai derbies.
Roster stasis finally ends
Marko Arnautovic formally signed with SIPG last week for somewhere north of 20 million Euros. The 6’4″, 30-year-old Austrian has 24 goals for his national team, has hit the back of the net in double figures in the Premier League in three of the last four years and even chipped in a couple of UEFA Champion’s League goals for Werder Bremen a few years ago.
The question with Arnautovic isn’t his legs, it’s his head. He’s pushed his way out of a couple of clubs, been vilified in the press, been arrested for bad driving, accused of racism and is the subject of an infamous Jose Mourinho quote, “He’s a fantastic person but he has the attitude of a child.”
Of course, there is no European-style press in China, Arnautovic is unlikely to get a Chinese driver’s license, he was absolved of the racism charge, and the Mourinho quote was about an 19-year-old boy, not a 30-year-old father of two daughters.
As far as Arnautovic pushing his way out of clubs, a lot of writers and thinkers about football, and some club officials too, have had a hard time adjusting to the new reality in football, in which players, not “owners,” control where players work. Arnautovic’s worst reviews have come when he’s said he wants a new job for more money. Behavior that the rest of us take for granted in our lives.
Arnautovic is coming to one of the most stable clubs on the planet. SIPG’s made just a couple of player moves in the last two years – whether they were voluntary or not is a matter of debate – and has a core of players who’ve been together for years. It’s an ideal landing place for someone dogged by questions about his temperament.
Arnautovic was in the house, but did not make his debut against Jiangsu Suning on Saturday night. Even if he had, it would have been forgotten. The match will always be The One With the Ye Chongqiu Red.
At the eight minute mark, the Jiangsu midfielder came flying into contest a 50-50 ball, his spikes so high that they raked across the chest of SIPG’s Yang Shiyuan, shredding his uniform and leaving multiple contusions, then continuing up and scraping Yang’s face in several places, including around Yang’s left eye. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Yang could have lost the eye.
English referee Mark Clattenburg issued perhaps the most obvious red card of his career. By the middle of the second half, Ye Chongqiu had already issued a public apology, but that seems unlikely to stop him from being the newest and an unusually deserving participant in CFA. Punishment Bingo®.
Yang was helped off the pitch immediately after the tackle. It’s not clear how much time, if any, he will miss. If he does miss time, it’s a pretty tough break: he broke through into the SIPG starting line-up only a month ago.
The card was the second nail in the coffin for Jiangsu; the first came in the very first minute. An Oscar corner was saved by Jiangsu keeper Gu Chao, but his clearance landed on Hulk’s foot six yards out, and Hulk, in traffic, found enough space to put it in the net.
At 17’, Zhang Wei pounced on a rebound from a Hulk shot to make it 2-0, and that was, for all intents and purposes, the match.
Oscar added a lovely goal from the top of the box in the 56th minute and then fifteen minutes later nearly had his hamstring cut in two by an awful tackle from behind by Xie Pengfei. Clattenburg was quick with another well-deserved red and the last twenty minutes of the match limped to a 3-0 conclusion.
The clean sheet was Yan Junling’s twelfth of the year in all competitions. He had to make three excellent saves to earn this one.
SIPG remains level with Guangzhou Evergrande, both of them two points behind Beijing Guo’an in the CSL.
The cost of Shanghai Shenhua’s inability to put a decent team on the field was on full display at Shanghai Stadium on July 6.
The Shanghai derby started the way you want one to start: a large crowd chanting and singing well before kick-off and an electric atmosphere inside the stadium once the match started.
It stayed that way for about 10 minutes, at which point Shenhua’s opening surge receded. When that happened, the crowd, expecting a one-sided affair, went as flat as an SIPG-Henan match in March.
The crowd was not wrong: a brace from Hulk and a goal from Wang Shenchao, all three assisted by Oscar, led SIPG to a 3-1 win. Shenhua never seriously challenged, and it should have been 5-1. Bahraini referee Nawaf Abdulla Ghayyath made a godawful VAR decision to overrule one SIPG goal, and the Red Eagles missed a spot kick at the end of the match.
It was SIPG’s seventh win in the last eight CSL derbies, decided by an aggregate of 23-6.
In a country that has trouble building pitches, with an educational system that actively discourages parents from letting their kids play football, with a league that has administrative issues and struggles for legitimacy and respect even among football fans, having one of the most important match-ups in the league turn into a joke is just not something the CSL can afford.
Hebei CFFC, one of five CSL teams that has identified itself as a threat to be relegated, comes to town Wednesday. On Sunday, SIPG makes it’s annual trip to Chongqing to take on the sixth place CSL squad. Chongqing will be missing Fernandinho, who left Chongqing this week as part of the Guangzhou/naturalization scheme. The Brazilian has been loaned to Hebei.
Odds and Ends
SIPG fan Michael Oldfield was one of about a thousand people in red in the visitor’s section in Jiangsu, but it’s safe to say he had the most unusual route to the Nanjing stadium: he biked it.
Starting Friday morning in Minhang Qu, Oldfield biked 180 kilometers through the Plum Season rain, stopped in Changzhou for the night, then finished up on Saturday with 150 more kilometers, arriving at Nanjing Olympic Sports Center a couple of hours before the match.
He described the trip as “safe and relaxed” despite the rain. Almost all the roads, including the national highways, had bike lanes and were well-paved, and Oldfield had a couple of those serendipitous moments that seem to happen to travelers in China. A village shoe mender helped him oil his bike chain, and a farmer insisted on gifting him with fruit even though said farmer was a Jiangsu Suning fan.
Oldfield, who hails from near Newcastle in the UK and teaches in Shanghai, is a BATS member and a denizen of the North Stand at Shanghai Stadium for the last four years.
The Jiangsu crowd was sparse: only 18,000 showed up because of a fan boycott, and some of those participated in an organized walk out during the match. (Last year’s Jiangsu-SIPG match in Nanjing had 32,000.)
The people who stayed were quiet. The protesters asked people at the match not to sing, and they didn’t. The visitors section had the vocal field to itself for the whole match and acquitted themselves well.
Jiangsu fans are frustrated that one of the wealthiest clubs in Chinese football has had only one really good season in the last seven and doesn’t seem to be trying all that hard to fix their squad.
The missed PK against Shenhua was by Elkeson, who came on in the 82nd minute in what turned out to be his last appearance in red. A few moments after he came on, Hulk got pulled down in the box, a spot kick was awarded, and Hulk immediately trotted to the wing, graciously gesturing to Elkeson to take it.
Unfortunately, there was no valedictory ending for the man soon to be Hulk’s ex-compatriot and ex-teammate. Elkeson’s kick was well-placed – a line drive to the lower right-hand corner – but Shenhua keeper Chen Zhao guessed correctly and made a nice save. For his trouble, Zhao was benched the next week by Shenhua on their trip to Langfang. Elkeson’s next appearance was for Evergrande against TEDA on July 11. He scored.
The crowd for SIPG-Shenhua was about 25,000, nearly identical to that of SIPG’s Champion’s League match against Jeonbuk. That appears to be the “capacity” that local officials have settled on this year.
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