Breaking Down the Great Wall of Chinese Football
The Chinese Super League is the Orient’s answer to high-spending sports. Teams have invested heavily. It's past time for spectators to see a return. Until this season, Guangzhou Evergrande were the only team to bask in the post-investment boom. They'd won the title seven years on the trot. Bayern and Juventus would be proud.
The CSL runs a summer calendar but respected the World Cup this season. Now it’s back to work. There’s a huge mid-week match between the first and second placed clubs. Guanghzou aren't involved.
The club wants to “Be the best, forever”. In all fairness, they have been the best team for close enough to forever. The rest of the league is sick and tired of the obnoxious mantra. Fabio Cannavaro's side could still turn it around and finish with their eighth title. Eight is the symbol for eternity propped up, and Guangzhou need to be propped up this campaign. They are currently fifth.
Being five places off the pole position is an unnerving situation for Evergrande. The last seven years have been so good, the concept of not winning the title haunts them.
In their place sit would-be-spending-champions, Shanghai SIPG. They’ve invested heavily in their Brazilian strike force. The well-known Hulk and Oscar accompany the less-renowned Elkson, who’s been in China for a long time now. The trio play at the top end of the pitch and contribute to the team’s goal threat. That said, it’s Wu Lei, the Chinese international who’s making the headlines. He has 12 goals in the 11 his side have played.
Just below them is Shangdong Luneng. Not a prominent CSL club, they boast Premier League experience with the likes of Papa Demba Cisse and Graziano Pelle. Despite that, their success can be put down to exceptional defending. They’ve conceded the fewest amount of goals, nine.
Only goal difference separates the two sides going into the game. A result either way will have a profound effect on the table. Dividends will literally mature or we’ll see investments go down the drain. Such is the businessman spending approach by the Chinese Super League.
Third-placed Beijing Guoan may also end the week at the top. They play lowly Henan Jianye, who are flirting with relegation in 14th place, just one shy of the icy hands of the Chinese First division. That said, you can still make a wedge in the second tier of Chinese football.
Beijing is on a roll. They’ve gone 13 games unbeaten and will surely dominate the game. A draw between first and second works best for them, as they could play a bit of leapfrog.
Guangzhou Evergrande hasn’t gone bad overnight, but there are certainly cracks in the previously watertight seven-time champions. Paulinho left the club after reviving his career. He's been missed and his return will be welcomed. He played a major role in their last two title wins.
It’s been a torrid time for the club. They've not made the most of their chances and are winless in their last six. Granted they’ve had a break, but we have to look back to April for their last win. Even that was a 90th minute 1-0 win. This isn’t the ruthless financial beast which mauled the CSL for the last seven years.
This, for everyone else, for China, for the other 15 clubs in the league and even Asian clubs, in general, is good. , The great walls of Guangzhou are coming down, Shanghai, Shangdong, and Beijing all want a piece of the post-investment era glory. Spending has generally gone down in the last year, as interest has waned. A lack of tradition and competitiveness isn’t an appealing combination for players or investors. With Guangzhou out of the title picture (for now), perhaps the league will finally open up.