After yet another extended off season with plenty of off pitch controversy, the 2021 Chinese Super League season kicks off tonight and we finally get to discuss happenings on the pitch.
I’ve already talked about the loss of last year’s champions Jiangsu FC (née Suning), which makes for a very strange start of the season. This year there was obviously no Super Cup and their disappearance has sent shock waves through the league, as players have struggled to find new sides. Tianjin Jinmen Tiger (née Teda, & no that isn’t a typo, they are the Tiger singular) was less than 24 hours away from going the same route as Jiangsu, but were ultimately saved by the Tianjin city government. Most of the team had already started practicing with other clubs, with many signing new contracts. When the team was saved & those who hadn’t already moved on were called back, the remains make a less than ideal situation for new manager Yu Genwei. The local government only managed to save Tianhai (née Quanjian) for a season, many fear the same could happen to the Jinmen Tiger.
For anyone reading the above, one of the other biggest stories of the off season should be pretty obvious, the CFA finally enforcing the neutral names policy. This is something that was widely discussed when the CFA first announced it, but then it was generally ignored, until the CFA told all clubs that they’d have to change their name going into the 2021 season. Outrage ensued amongst those teams who’ve kept the same name for 20+ seasons and as always with CFA policies there was touches of madness as small subsidies within a team’s ownership led to naming issues, but in the end justice was more or less served.
Beijing Guoan, Shanghai Shenhua, and Changchun Yatai were able to keep their names, Shandong Taishan got the name they wanted, and for the “traditional” teams only Henan (who went with an extreme name change before they said they were kidding and reigned it in) & Tianjin were left in the cold. This is all a positive step as hopefully over time this leads to more consortium ownership & push for professionalism instead of a single organization whose business gains (& losses) controls the fate of the club they own.
All this meant that while football elsewhere in Asia has gone on for weeks now, the Chinese season is only starting to kick off (and of course it does so midweek). Part of the issue can be blamed on COVID but China is ahead of the curve (Brazil is so bad that many of the top CSL foreigners won’t be on their side’s roster when the season starts) doing better than everywhere else in the world, yet the games will still be started in a bubble (though a majority will be open to fans). There is still hope that by the 2nd or 3rd phase of this season, we’ll see a return to home and away matches.
Call me bitter, the above negativity driven by an extended off season full of craziness, but I couldn’t be happier to have the CSL back and a great first week of matches. The CFA made sure that things wouldn’t be boring, with plenty of derbies and exciting matches in the first few rounds.
And without Jiangsu FC and a lot of changes at Guangzhou FC (née Evergrande), it’s a wide open season and quite possible we’ll see another outsider lift the league trophy in the end, let’s just hope they’re still around when the 2022 season kicks off.