Guangzhou Evergrande winning the title is becoming as inevitable as night following day, but who can challenge their dominance?
Evergrande are celebrating a sixth consecutive Super League championship while the also-rans lick their wounds and plan for next season
“They’ve won the league, bigger stars than Dallas,
They got more silver than Buckingham Palace,
No-one knows quite what to expect,
When the red machine’s in full effect.”
That was written about Liverpool during their ’80s heyday but could be equally applied to Guanghzou Evergrande of the present.
The only thing is that Chinese football fans know exactly what to expect: Guangzhou Evergrande will win the Super League title. They have done that for the sixth time in a row, lifting the trophy every year since they were promoted to the country’s top flight.
A 1-1 draw with Yanbian Funde was enough to spark wild celebrations as their sole rivals for the title Jiangsu Suning could only manage a draw themselves against Chongqing Lifan.
Watch: highlights of Guangzhou Evergrande v Yanbian Funde
The champions are seven points clear and make the trip to play the runners-up on Wednesday, cruel timing for their latest coronation. At least Jiangsu Suning still have the opportunity to exact revenge when the sides meet in the Chinese FA Cup final next month.
While Evergrande can start thinking about challenging the record for consecutive titles – 14 and counting for Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps – the rest of the league are playing for second place.
Evergrande will again be regarded as favourites for next season’s title. Whatever changes in personnel they undergo during the winter break, history suggests it won’t matter on the pitch.
Luis Felipe Scolari is expected to leave when his contract is up at the end of the season. This was his second CSL title since replacing Fabio Cannavaro during the middle of last season, with the former Italy captain himself taking over from former boss Marcello Lippi. Despite the disruption in the dugout, the reds have run rampant regardless.
Lippi was intended to return for next season but in trademark Evergrande fashion the contract has been ripped up to allow the World Cup winning boss to takeover the Chinese national team. The club clearly understands how dominant it is if it can afford to let Lippi leave for the good of Chinese football.
Don’t forget that they have a history of this. They sold star striker Elkeson to Shanghai SIPG for a similar reason, with the press announcement citing that the goalscorer was meant to fire their compatriots to the AFC Champions League and bring glory upon the nation. What kind of football club actively strengthens their opposition?
Guanzghou Evergrande, that’s who. They were proved right letting the Elk’ loose. They have won the league with two games to go and they have done so without the Brazilian’s big name (and big money) replacement Jackson Martinez starring. The Colombian is likely to find himself looking for another club once the season is over and Evergrande will strengthen with a more suitable replacement.
So who is going to stop Evergrande next season?
Jiangsu Suning ran them close this season and will be expected to again strengthen in the transfer market.
Hebei China Fortune will also be expected to challenge after their remarkable nosedive this season. Their title aspirations tailed off and while new manager Manuel Pellegrini has work to do with his squad – this weekend was their first win under the Chilean – there is money and talent at his disposal to mount a serious challenge next season.
Similarly, perennial powerhouses Shandong Luneng are expected to return to the top end of the table and having secured safety after coming in this summer, Felix Magath has talked up his team’s title ambitions. Elsewhere in the field of dark horses, new boys Tianjin Quanjian are tipped to take a tilt at the title. They have money and glamour in the form of manager Fabio Cannavaro and they come up as champions after clinching the League One title this weekend.
One of the Shanghai sides, be that Shanghai SIP or Shanghai Shenhua, might make a better fist of it in 2017.
Both were beset by injuries to their foreign stars this term but the truth is that SIPG have gone backwards under Sven-Goran Eriksson this year, scrabbling for the Champions League spots after coming second last season.
Longer term, Shanghai might be where Guangzhou’s stranglehold is challenged. Manchester City owners the City Football Group are said to be in talks about creating a City team in Shanghai in the vein of their Melbourne and New York City spin-offs.
It’s going to take something, that’s for sure. Until then, to paraphrase Gary Lineker’s saying about the Germans, Chinese football will forever be a game where 22 men kick a ball about and in the end Guanghzou win.