Sporting year in review 2018

Chinese football year in review 2018: more madness, but plenty of positives in another crazy campaign

  • Shanghai SIPG beat Guangzhou Evergrande to win first Chinese Super League title, with Wu Lei leading the league in scoring
  • Military camps and bizarre bans overshadow progress on the pitch where Wang Shuang has shone in Paris
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 10:24am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 11:15am

There is a single image that should define the year in Chinese football.

Some of the nation’s best players are in a nondescript room, heads uniformly shaven and dressed in military garb.

They sit on cheap plastic chairs watching the national team on television and the screen is balanced precariously on two more plastic chairs so everyone can see.

Rickety foundations, a lack of foresight, reacting with shoddy solutions. Whatever you want to read into it, there’s a message there.

The image comes from the first military training camp, which removed 55 players from their Chinese Super League and China League One clubs during the season.

There has been another since that took another 48 players, although at least the season is over.

Then women’s football followed with a military camp of their own.

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They now have a red and yellow squad for the national team, an idea lifted direct from the CBA’s two tier national squads.

That’s not as crazy as the rumours that the CFA wanted to take something else from the CBA: boss Yao Ming.

The women’s team, who won silver at the Asian Games and also qualified for next year’s World Cup, have also turned to the past as they prepare for France 2019.

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They have employed the fitness regimes of so called “devil coach” Chang-back, the South Korean who brought success to the women’s hockey team when they took silver at the 2008 Beijing OIympics.

The men’s under-23s looked to the past too, hiring Guus Hiddink to lead them to Tokyo 2020.

The former Chelsea boss is hardly a progressive appointment, and it is 16 years since his success with South Korea at the World Cup.

But what the suits lack in original thinking in hiring, they more than make up for in creativity when it comes to rules and fining those breaking them.

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Most ridiculously, there could be egg on their collective faces now that reports have emerged that the “transfer tax” they have been imposing on teams may be illegal.

If that’s the case they will have to give the money back to the clubs, which would be quite the own goal even for the make-it-up-as-we-go-along CFA.

Some of the clubs are not much better.

Anthony Modeste left Tianjin Quanjian claiming unpaid wages, which he was awarded, while the club also managed to play a vital AFC Champions League game in Macau after failing to get a stadium closer to home.

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The saddest part is that all of this nonsense overshadows the many positives of 2018. They were clear to see for those willing to look past the headlines and the inevitable farce.

Wang Shuang has shone since moving to Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team, scoring in the Uefa Champions League and the French league.

She will lead the Steel Roses in France next year as they look to replicate the success of the 1999 team that finished runners-up to the US on penalties.

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“Lady Messi” was also named in the Guardian’s Top 100 Women’s Footballer list and has been named to the French league team of the first half of the season.

As for the men, little is expected of them at the Asian Cup and that lack of pressure could be good for them.

Any success will hinge on Wu Lei finally replicating his club form for his country. The forward finished top scorer in the Chinese Super League as Shanghai SIPG ended Guangzhou Evergrande’s seven-season grip on the title.

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That capped off the best title race in years and a season where Beijing Guoan won the cup, while Chinese fans (and companies) were also out in force at the World Cup in Russia in the summer.

There are surely more positives to come, with Europe’s biggest teams returning to the country for pre-season giving fans a chance to see their heroes in the flesh, and the CFA opportunities of its own to prove it is making progress.

The CFA has a chance to make a statement when it has to replace Marcello Lippi once the Italian’s contract expires after the Asian Cup in January.

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They also have a chance to change the rules for the better before the CSL season in March.

Perhaps they can consider following in the footsteps of Japan’s J.League and put an end to the limit on foreigners, creating a product that more people will want to watch.

Based on the rumours of the new wave of players linked with Chinese clubs – Barcelona’s Malcom and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha – and the arrival of former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores at Shanghai Shenhua, never mind Beijing Guoan’s attempts at naturalising overseas born Chinese, 2019 might be the most interesting year yet.

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