When they show such contempt for the league and the fans, why do China’s clubs persist with big-money ‘star’ foreign players at the expense of domestic talent?
Oscar’s actions that led to his recent ban and Carlos Tevez’s comments about Chinese football are the latest in a long line of instances of foreign players behaving badly in China
A few years ago I played football in a pub league team. We weren’t very good. In fact, we were dreadful. We struggled all season to score a goal and barely registered a point.
A disastrous campaign reached its nadir after one particularly humiliating defeat and later that night an emergency meeting of the club’s top brass was called and we took a drastic decision in an effort to avoid relegation.
Forsaking a group of skillfully limited but highly enthusiastic regulars that had been with the club through thick and thin that awful season, we decided to call in a favour from an affiliated team and request they allow us to “borrow” some of their players in a blatant and soulless attempt at keeping our club in the top division.
The enterprise was doomed. We were eventually relegated without so much as a whimper, ringers and all.
Our star recruits didn’t really care all that much about the club, nor our predicament.
That attitude was hideously apparent from the very first game. Our more talented ringers, dismayed at the inferior skills of the lesser players around them, rolled their eyes at wayward passes, groaned after missed tackles and generally exuded an air of not really giving a sh*t.
“At least,” I remember saying after relegation was confirmed, “our ‘lesser’ lads, who were squeezed out for the prima donnas, would have worked their socks off in an effort to save us.” But we never gave them a chance.
When it came to rallying the troops again for our division two campaign, the lads who had been forced out felt betrayed and refused to return to the club.
I’m reminded of that tawdry season every now and again when watching a Chinese Super League game.
Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to have to sit on the bench at Shanghai Shenhua playing second fiddle to an overweight and overpaid Carlos Tevez as he turns in a series of leaden-footed performances?
A video surfaced on Twitter recently showing the Argentine standing still for large periods of a league encounter with Tianjin Teda in one example of his apparent contempt for those around him.
— Just Football (@JustFootball) June 2, 2017
By and large, Tevez has been appalling, scoring a solitary goal so far for his new club.
The 32-year-old has been in the headlines more for matters away from the pitch than for his achievements on it since the move.
Variously he has complained about the food, caused a furore after being spotted at Disneyland during a Shenhua match, blasted the standard of the players in the league and most recently when Argentine sports newspaper Ole declared the former Manchester United and Juventus star unhappy in China and ready to quit less than six months after moving there.
That familiar air of superiority emanates from him whenever he plays.
He scored nine times in 22 games in the Argentinian Primera Division before his big-money switch, and 27 times in 42 games the season before that in Serie A – he hasn’t become a bad player overnight. The sad fact is that he just doesn’t care as much.
Then there’s Oscar. He has had a better time of it in China with seven assists from an advanced midfield position.
When the 25-year-old signed for Shanghai SIPG for an Asian record €60 million (HK$522.7m) in January he seemed genuine as he spoke of wanting to do well for his new club and how he didn’t consider the move to be too drastic a step down in standard. But his demeanour this term hasn’t shown as much and has landed him in hot water.
Although last Thursday’s decision to hand him an eight-game ban was undoubtedly a harsh one, it may have more about sending players a message in reaction to a perceived lack of respect.
Can you imagine he would have slammed the ball at two opposition players in the way he did if he were still playing for Chelsea in the Premier League? It was a shocking display of petulance and arrogance from the Brazilian.
This, though, is not a new phenomenon. Chinese fans were treated to an astonishingly indifferent first season from big-money signing Ezequiel Lavezzi last year (although he has done better this season). He had been dubbed “the next Maradona” at the time of his switch from French giants Paris Saint-Germain, but the €5.7-million-a-year man didn’t register a single goal.
And the less said about that incident the better.
There was also the torpid six months Nicolas Anelka spent playing in Shanghai in 2012, when less than a year later he was agitating for a move away after disrespecting Shenhua fans following his refusal to greet them after a match.
“Le Sulk”’s behaviour was predated by that of former Glasgow Rangers defender Maurice Ross who was forced out of Beijing Guoan after getting into a scrap with a Beijing cabby.
The list goes on.
With the summer transfer window open, there has yet to be any explosive big money signings in China, although inevitably rumours abound.
Maybe the owners of Super League clubs have come to the realisation that throwing vast sums at international star players is not always the answer to their team’s travails and can be counterproductive.
More likely they have been dissuaded by the prohibitive 100 per cent tax the Chinese government has slapped on new overseas transfers.
Either way the “lesser” players in the Super League might now get more chance to make their mark.