Pressure starts to tell at Chinese Super League summit with mid-season sackings and referee rage
Ugly scenes at top-of-the-table clash between Shanghai SIPG and Jiangsu Suning as ‘black whistle’ accusations are aimed at bungling official
Dark scenes in world football this weekend and the Chinese Super League was no exception. Nothing on the scale of the nonsense in Marseille, of course, but unwelcome scenes nonetheless at Shanghai Stadium where Shanghai SIPG took on Jiangsu Suning in a game both needed to win in order to keep pace in the race for the AFC Champions League spots.
The home side fell behind to a breakaway goal after Alex Teixeira slipped in fellow Brazilian Ramires to slot home in the 20th minute before bombarding the visitors goal with chance after chance. They eventually restored parity in the 62nd minute with a tidy chest and volley from substitute Asamoah Gyan.
Honours were even for just six minutes and then honour went out of the window. Referee Hai Tan awarded the Nanjing side a controversial penalty, after it appeared that SIPG midfielder Yu Hai had beaten Teixera to the ball following another counter attack.
This prompted players from both sides to surround the referee. During the melee at least one player put his hands on the referee – an automatic red card offence – but no cards were shown.
The penalty decision remained and the resultant spot kick was tucked away by Jo to a feverish chorus of anti-referee sentiment from the home fans. Shanghai continued to chase the game and could have had a penalty of their own when Asamoah Gyan was sandwiched by two Jiansgu defenders in the six-yard box.
Hai Tan waved away those protests to further anger the home fans before sending them over the edge with two quick bookings for substitute Lv Wenjun, the bizarre second of which was for high feet as he attempted an overhead kick only to connect with the head of a defender.
The home team surrounded the referee to remonstrate and Shi Ke was booked for insulting the ref. One of the Shanghai subs charged onto the field in an attempt to reach the referee but was stopped by coaches and teammates.
That was ugly but the worst was yet to come and it came from the fans. Chants of “Hai Tan s***i” singled out the man they thought was responsible for the result while accusations that he was a “black whistle”, the local term for corrupt referees, were also aired. Many fans waved money to indicate that he had been bribed and one even threw a mobile phone at the man in black as he was escorted down the tunnel.
No one is seriously saying that the Chinese game is once again plagued by match-fixing, as it was in the 2000s when various corruption scandals engulfed the game and resulted in five match officials, including the most famous, Lu Jun, and CFA executives ending up in jail in 2012.
However, it is understandable that emotions boil over now that there is more at stake than ever before in the CSL.
It also has to be said that not everyone reacted badly. SIPG manager Sven-Goran Ericsson shook the referee’s hand as he left the pitch and put the result down to poor finishing from his side.
But the Swede knows the pressure is on after Jiangsu’s victory put them four points ahead of his own side, who currently sit outside Champions League spot.
Ericsson’s team are still in this season’s AFC Champions League – and would automatically qualify for next season if they win that trophy – but their hopes of returning by finishing in the top three are under threat from a chasing pack including Tianjin TEDA, Henan Jianye and a resurgent Beijing Guoan.
SIPG have invested heavily for this campaign with the expectation of success, just as Jiangsu Suning did. It was notable that in the opposition dugout on Saturday it was not the manager who started the season, with Tang Jing in charge as the club looks to find a replacement for Dan Petrescu.
Elsewhere, Beijing Guoan’s rise up the table has coincided with giving Alberto Zaccheroni his marching orders. Increased demands and immediate success mean that no one’s job is secure.
There’s a long way to go in the CSL campaign but it will be interesting to see what clubs deem as acceptable returns on their investments and who is cut loose for not meeting expectations.
Take Shandong Luneng, the other Chinese representative left in the Champions League. Relative continental success was not enough to save Mano Menezes being replaced by Felix Magath as his team languished in the relegation zone.
With two games this week it could all change yet again but it’s bound to be emotional as the threat of the axe looms large.