Newcomers Hebei China Fortune FC and Yanbian Funde feeling at home in the Chinese Super League
Hebei currently find themselves in second place in the top flight, with Yanbian seemingly safe from relegation after drawing with defending champions Guangzhou Evergrande this weekend
We’re almost at the halfway stage of this season’s Chinese Super League and that’s a large enough sample to predict what might lie ahead for this campaign’s debutants.
New boys Hebei China Fortune FC made a big splash at the start of the season with their star signings Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gael Kakuta and Gervinho and they have largely delivered on that spending spree. The Northeastern club won once again this weekend, edging Tianjin Teda thanks to a first minute Gael Kakuta goal, which leaves them sitting pretty in second in the standings just three points behind five-time champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
It’s been a remarkable rise for the side that finished second in League One last season. The club was only formed in 2010 and began their life in League Two, the country’s regional third tier, from which they gained promotion in 2013. Now they are well and truly established as a force to be reckoned with in the top flight.
Hebei’s tilt at the title disproves the adage that what goes up necessarily has to go down while the fortunes of the other newly-promoted side is equally surprising.
Yanbian Funde came up as champions and the team from the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture by the North Korean border held the reigning CSL champions to a 1-1 draw in Yanji this weekend thanks to goal from their Gambian Bubacarr Trawally.
Yanbian are safe from relegation so far sitting in 12th of 16 teams in their debut season. Recent history would suggest that they will stay up.
Last season it was Chongqing Lifan and Shijiazhuang Ever Bright who were promoted. Both finished comfortably midtable, even though Chongqing were on the wrong end of a 7-0 hammering by the eventual champs. Both are currently outside of the relegation spots and look set to extend their stay in the top flight.
In 2014, Harbin Yiteng were promoted and finished dead last in a season where they started off losing eight matches on the bounce and lost 6-3 to Evergande. Fellow newcomers Henan Jianye survived the drop by a point and have grown into their divisional status since.
The season before Shanghai SIPG were newcomers and now they are regarded as one of the country’s powerhouses, while Wuhan Zall also enjoyed their solitary season in the top flight. Shanghai SIPG announced themselves in dramatic style by winning 6-1 away at Shanghai Shenxin in the derby.
Dalian Aerbin, now Dalian Yifeng after their new owners, had a three season stay in the Super League. They just missed out on an AFC Champions League spot in their debut season in the top flight while fellow newcomers Guangzhou R&F finished seventh in a thoroughly congested midtable.
Dalian just missed out on promotion last season finishing third in their attempt to bounce back at the first time of asking and they will be kicking themselves for missing out as League One is now harder than ever to win promotion from.
The calibre of coaches and players in the second tier has improved astronomically since Chinese football really started throwing its weight around at the turn of the year. Former World Cup winner, and one time Guanghzou Evergrande manager, Fabio Cannavaro has recently replaced Brazilian Vanderlei Luxemburgo in the hotseat at Tianjin Quanjian.
The Italian manages a team that includes striker Luis Fabiano, who has scoring at a World Cup for Brazil listed on his CV. Fabiano was on the scoresheet again at the weekend as his side beat second-placed Guangzhou Hengfeng Zhicheng 2-1.
Even still Cannavaro’s side are currently seventh in the table behind the likes of fourth-placed Beijing Renhe who can call upon the Balkan trio of Sejad Sahilovic, Nikola Jelavic and Zvejdan Misimovic as their three foreign players. The latter pair both bagged braces this weekend as the Beijing-based side thrashed top of the table Qingdao Huanghai 5-0 in the capital.
It’s a congested affair in the quest for a seat at Chinese football’s top table with just six points separating Qingdao in first and Tianjin in seventh place. Only two of those clubs can go up and once they are up they will want to stay there.
Both of this season’s promoted teams look set to retain their place in the Super League next season and Hebei can even dream of the title. To win it they will have to wrestle top spot from Guangzhou Evergrande, no mean feat given they have won the league every year since they were promoted in 2011.
Maybe Hebei can go all the way or maybe next season’s Super League title challenger is currently playing in League One. The huge investment in Chinese football means that the rulebook is essentially ripped up and teams can go from literally nothing to the AFC Champions League over the course of five seasons.
It will be interesting to who has ambitions of being the next overnight success when the transfer window opens on June 21.