Bizarre fines and stupid substitutions continue to take focus away from Chinese Super League title race
Clubs concerned with their ‘brand’ fining their staff and managers making inexplicably short substitutions detract from the football
After the tenth round of Chinese Super League fixtures – a third of the way into the season – there are just five points separating the top half of the table and it promises to be one of the most exciting title races in years.
In fact, it actually promises to be a title race when the most recent seven seasons have seen Guangzhou Evergrande waltz to the trophy with little resistance.
This season looks like one where the seven-in-a-row champions could be stopped, with four teams above them suggesting someone might last the distance.
But we won’t be talking about the title race.
Shanghai SIPG looked as if they wanted to win the league at the start of the season but their draw against bottom side Guizhou makes it four without a win.
But we won’t be talking about the penalty save that earned them a point or Wu Lei scoring once again, his 11th of the season.
SIPG remain top because Shandong Luneng were held themselves, a 96th minute equaliser keeping them in second on goal difference.
But we won’t be talking about the drama of Graziano Pelle’s goal and the reaction that it brought about from the away fans.
Elsewhere, the champions needed a Ricardo Goulart brace to earn themselves a point at home to Hebei China Fortune, while it was the same story with Cedric Bakambu for Beijing Guoan in their 2-2 draw with Guanghzou R&F, where last season’s top scorer Eran Zahavi added another two goals.
But we won’t be talking about the race for the golden boot.
Jiangsu Sainty and Shanghai Shenhua have stealthily closed in on the leaders over the last few weeks and both won again.
But we won’t be talking about Jiangsu’s 21-year-old Huang Zichang scoring his fifth of the season or Fredy Guarin’s sumptuous bar-kissing free-kick.
Instead – and as usual – there is enough madness surrounding the game to take the attention away from the actual football.
As ever, Shanghai Shenhua are leading the way.
The second city side have long been a source of some of the stranger behaviour in the Super League and Saturday saw facial recognition technology for fans to get into the game and then those supporters hold their heads in their hands when manager Wu Jingui brought on a sub for just three minutes before taking him off again.
What purpose does that serve in a 19-year-old’s development to bring him on after 84 minutes and take him off again on 87 minutes?
A thirtieth of a football match. That’s not a thing.
People miss longer than that trying to beat the queues for the toilets at half-time.
China's gone full colonel Kurtz on its football fans - facial recognition turnstile just to get into Hongkou football stadium. pic.twitter.com/my6PmeDfs2
— Cameron Wilson 韦侃仑 (@CameronWEF) May 12, 2018
Credit to Liu Rofan for managing to create a goalscoring opportunity for a teammate in that time but still. That’s madness even for a league that was blighted with quickfire subs last season as teams tried to game the under-23 system.
This was the icing on the cake in a week that has shown the stranger than fiction side of Chinese football.
We also witnessed Guangzhou Evergrande demote and fine five staff members for the heinous crime of thinking quickly to MacGyver together a taped-up shirt for defender Zhang Linpeng after his original jersey was bloodied in their AFC Champions League tie against Tianjin Quanjian.
A massive overreaction. They “seriously damaged the club brand” apparently. Surely the overreaction and making headlines around the world is more damaging to the club brand, unless they want to be branded a laughing stock?
Then there was the story involving bottom side Guizhou, where the club incentivised the players with a cash bonus to win the next two games – and a collective fine of RMB 1 million if they lost.
Gregorio Manzano's Guizhou Hengfeng have lost 8 of the first 9 CSL games of the season. In order to inspire players, the club owner promised to reward ¥10m($1.57m)/per game to players as additional prize. It will be given to players in cash in the dressing-room following victory. pic.twitter.com/jQSFAAQweL
— Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) 9 May 2018
A financial fillip of RMB10 million (US$1.5 million) to be split between the team for each of the SIPG and Dalian Yifang games was subsequently dismissed as “fake news” by the club.
An official statement said the Guangzhou Metropolitan Daily report had “severely damaged the club’s reputation”. That again. And it fined several staff including the whole media department for “dereliction of duty”.
As it was, the club did not deny the bonus so the players may have split their 2 million draw bonus anyway and they could still be in line for the big bucks if they beat their fellow strugglers in the final game before the league takes an extended two-month summer break for the World Cup.
We will find out just how many are in line to play when the provisional 30 man squads are revealed to Fifa on Monday in Europe but you’ll be able to count the number of players from the Chinese Super League going to play in Russia on one hand meaning most clubs are unaffected.
Clearly China is very serious about the World Cup, even if they are not in it.
Weirder still? The second tier is taking two months off as well for a grand total of zero players representing their countries in Russia.
Just like the wallets of its free-spending club chairmen, Chinese football keeps on coming up with the money whether it’s bizarre bans or big bonuses.
But it would be nice if the suits could sit on their hands long enough to let people concentrate on what the actual football has to offer.