Chinese Super League opener answers some questions and asks some new ones

New 2017 campaign opens with 19 goals across eight games, but rules regarding under 23 players are tested

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 5:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 March, 2017, 1:58pm

And relax. The Chinese Super League is here, and despite a slow start, it wasn’t a bad opening weekend which didn’t quite reach the same levels of hype surrounding the preseason transfer window, but it went pretty close.

There were 19 goals spread across the eight games, we have a five-way tie at the top of the table, and it turns out that Shanghai Shenhua’s signing of Carlos Tevez might not have been that bad of an idea after all, although is anyone really worth a reported US$800,000 a week?

But the decision by officials to start the season in front of a empty stadium on Friday as newly-promoted Guizhou Zhicheng shared a 1-1 draw at home with Liaoning Whowin is still baffling.

After all the hype which preceded the start of the new season, be in Tevez or Oscar, surely this fixture could have been hidden away amongst four or five games on either Saturday or Sunday.

Officials should be applauded for punishing Guizhou for crowd trouble last season in League One against Tianjian Quanjian, but the somewhat misplaced criticism of the decision to open the season with this game could have been avoided.

The selection of games at the weekend was also a little baffling from British broadcaster Sky Sports, who choose or were handed Guangzhou R&F against Tianjin Quanjian at 7.30am on a Saturday morning in the United Kingdom.

Time for Chinese Super League clubs to get serious or it is going to be a long season despite what you have paid for it

With the majority of games kicking off at 7.35pm local time, therefore 11.35am in Britain, why didn’t Sky Sports give their audiences Oscar’s Shanghai SIPG debut against Changchun Yatai?

Fans may have been pleased with Guangzhou R&F beating last season’s League One champions 2-0, but surely they would have been mush happier with seeing Oscar, Hulk and Elkeson terrorise Tianjin Quanjian on their way to a 5-1 win?

Thankfully for subscribers in the United Kingdom, they will see SIPG take on Yanbian Funde on Friday morning before Tevez and his teammates take on Tianjin Quanjian on Saturday morning. Maybe Sky Sports are actually secret fans of Fabio Cannavaro’s Tianjin Quanjian?

Guizhou were punished for breaking the rules, and what do they say about rules? They are there to be broken, or at least tested and flexed as much as possible.

One step forward and two steps back as Chinese Super League makes less than impressive start

These rules are those governing the Chinese Football Associations (CFA) new insistence for the 2017 season that clubs must field one Chinese player aged under 23 in their starting line-up. This place was moved over from last seasons foreign allowance of four, which now stands at three.

Statistics show that of the 22 under 23 players fielded by the 16 clubs over the opening weekend, they averaged 64.3 minutes of playing time.

That’s fine, but the sight of Liaoning’s 21-year-old Wang Qiao being withdrawn inside the first 20 minutes against Guizhou on Friday did raise questions if this is a way of clubs avoiding the penalty of a 3-0 defeat despite coach Ma Lin defending his move with the visitors leading 1-0 at the time.

“When young players start the match, they must have a lot of pressure. Today the opponent’s tactics were very specific and targeted, they came for him [Wang] in particular and if things kept going like that, this U-23 player would have had more pressure. So in order to keep the balance we made the decision to replace him,” said Ma.

SIPG coach Andre Villas-Boas followed suit with a similar move on Saturday as the former Tottenham Hotspur boss withdrew 18-year-old Zhang Huachen after 30 minutes of their 5-1 comeback win over Changchun Yatai.

“We have many young players in this team,” said Villas-Boas. “Zhang Huachen is more like U-21, he did well today, but I brought him off because we were a goal behind. I sent on Yu Hai because he is more experienced.”

Villas-Boas has been highly critical of the policy changes, which were introduced after teams as started shaping their squads for the new season, and on this issue he has a point.

Clubs should have been given more notice, and the CFA should have thought through their rules a bit better before backtracking and reinstating the rule allowing teams to have an Asian player in their overall squad of 27 on top of four other foreign players.

Not so much off with a bang, but new Chinese Super League season finally about to get under way

Time will tell if this rule, introduced to help the ailing China national team develop a wider pool of players and improve the league as a whole, is effective.

But what does it do for the confidence of a 21-year-old being withdrawn after less than 20 minutes of the first match of the season when your team is leading?