New season, new money, same old story in the Chinese Super League’s first big clash in a brave new world
Jonathan White sat through an underwhelming Shanghai derby – the biggest game of the Chinese Super League season so far – and found that despite the bells and whistles (and the €30 million of new talent) it was sadly familiar fare on offer
For all the millions invested in Chinese football, for all the snazzy kits and modern badges and star players, there’s still one thing that is not top level. And sadly that’s the football itself. Ask anyone of the 40-odd thousand who were at Shanghai Stadium for the biggest game of the season so far on Friday night, the derby between Shanghai Greenland Shenhua and Shanghai SIPG.
It’s a quirk of the Chinese Super League fixture list that there is usually only one big game a weekend. OK, so it’s a quirk that is totally deliberate but it meant that all eyes were on the second city for the second round. The 600 or so visiting fans didn’t have long to wait to draw first blood and it came in the style of Stoke City-era Pulis-ball. Qin Sheng doing his best Rory Delap impression and launching a long throw into the mixer.
That’s where Shenhua captain Giovanni Moreno proved that Asamoah Gyan has no right to wear the No 3 shirt based on his defending, he outjumped the Ghanaian forward and looped a header into the goal. SIPG equalised before the half was out, a Dario Conca free kick from distance was not fully cleared and after a bit of pinball up stepped SIPG midfielder Cai Huikang was first to head in a rebound that came off the bar.
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Everyone loves headed goals but the pair were hardly the stuff that the Bundesliga marketing department shouts so loudly about. The best chance for a winner – aside from Demba Ba’s shocking penalty miss – fell to substitute Obafemi Martins with a header he nodded straight at the home goalkeeper. It was no small irony that Tim Cahill’s aerial prowess was deemed surplus to requirements by incoming coach Manzano in order to free up one of the foreigner spots for the Nigerian.
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There should be no excuses. Both coaches know the league – Manzano was CSL coach of the season at Beijing and Sven had a stint at Guanghzou R&F before Shanghai – and they are not without pedigree outside China. Their foreign players have been around too.
The pixie-like Conca and Elkeson were teammates at Guangzhou Evergrande before SIPG; Moreno is Shenhua skipper after four seasons in Shanghai. Regardless, for two of the best teams in the CSL this was dire, uninspired stuff.
Perhaps it was nerves, perhaps there was too much pressure in a derby this early in the season but collectively they were out of ideas, other than set pieces and long balls forward, and that was from the first whistle. If that is going to be the way then for all the talk of signing Wayne Rooney, it would surely be better for the CSL to lure Fellaini and Van Gaal away from Old Trafford. Better still, I’m sure even West Bromwich Albion’s chairman could think of a price at which he’d let Pulis himself leave the Hawthorns. The football might not be a marked improvement but someone could make a fortune in novelty wigs and baseball caps. And the press conferences would become unmissable.