Footballers putting their feet in their mouths is nothing new. Perhaps not as old as the game itself, either in England’s public schools or in Ancient China but no surprise. There is one area that footballers tend to distance themselves from, though – publicly criticising teammates. Behind closed doors, sure, and such feedback has been cited as vital to title-winning teams, but not in public. Even the walking ego that is Cristiano Ronaldo backtracked when it seemed he had publicly called out his Real Madrid teammates after a 1-0 loss at home to city rivals Atletico. “If everyone was at my level, perhaps we would be first,” Ronaldo told Cope radio, but he was quick to change his tune to say that he meant physically. Chinese media reported Beijing Guoan will penalize the Kim Min-jae for his comments in a Korean talk show. Kim Min-jae has apologized. He also explained he was not intending to be contemptuous on Chinese football and his true narrative was distorted by tendentious editing. pic.twitter.com/rMHC1B8r5t — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) May 5, 2020 “I meant the physical level, I am no better than anyone else,” Ronaldo told Madrid-based Marca newspaper afterwards. “When I say that I mean the physical level, not in the game. I am not better than any of my teammates.” As footballer mantra goes, the dressing room being sacrosanct is up there with “what goes on tour, stays on tour”. There are other high-profile examples – especially with social media – where players have backtracked with a speed fans would like to see on the pitch. Kim told to ‘apologise or leave’ for criticising China teammates It is different in US sports, where media access to athletes appears an almost constitutional right and they tend to play the media game as well as their chosen sport. Take NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he had “earned the right” to criticise his teammates in public as he did just that following a loss. A similar attitude prevails in the NBA, MLB, NHL as in American football. At the other extreme is Chinese football as Beijing Guoan’s Kim Min-jae found out after comments made on a South Korean television show were translated into Chinese. Kim said a number of things, but the crux of them was that he was critical of Yu Dabao as a defender, said that full-back Wang Gang went walkabout and suggested Chinese players did not move off the ball enough. Kim Min-jae and Nico Yennaris have completed the 14-day quarantine and will join Beijing Guoan's training camp soon. John Hou Saeter and Alan. two naturalized players have not returned to China. Bruno Genesio, Renato Augusto, Jonathan Viera & Cederic Bakambu are waiting as well. pic.twitter.com/Y2Wm4nnUHo — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) April 11, 2020 Some Beijing Guoan fans argued that the 23-year-old was merely stating the obvious. Yu was a striker before being moved to central defence and he still goes up front for the national team on occasion, a “Peking Paul Warhurst” if you like. It’s not a bad thing to point out he might not be the best defender in the world. Chinese football royalty Xu Genbao has been critical of player’s lack of movement, in both senses. Xu, whose football academy (and later his club Shanghai East Asia) moulded Espanyol’s Wu Lei, has bemoaned an inertia of Chinese footballers on the pitch and off it in refusing to leave China. What has upset people is that Kim pointed out Yu and Wang play for the national team and are not the best. Never mind that the national team’s regular losses lead to calls for it to be disbanded and much stronger criticism of the players than Kim offered. A PR crisis for Kim Min-jae: in a talk show of a Korean TV channel the Beijing Guoan defender commented his club teammates. Many Chinese fans and media journalists felt offended, thinking his comments are contemptuous on Chinese football. Some asked him to apologize or leave. pic.twitter.com/zMs2vcOevV — Titan Sports Plus (@titan_plus) May 5, 2020 There is a wider issue regarding the quality of Chinese footballers and the elephant in the room is the naturalisation policy that has seen Nico Yennaris and Elkeson play for the national team. Reports suggest that by the time of the next Fifa World Cup 2022 qualifiers in October there could be up to seven naturalised players in Li Tie’s squad. Chinese Super League clubs also tend to rely on their foreign players. Kim is Guoan’s best defender and the team’s title challenge last year ended with the loss of Jonathan Viera to injury. Look at the scoring chart, Israel’s Eran Zahavi set a new benchmark last season and the only Chinese player in the top 10 was Elkeson – he was still Brazilian for much of the season. Former Celtic defender and China captain Du Wei was critical of Kim on his Weibo. Per OSEN, the CEO of Beijing Guoan has made it clear that there will be no Kim Min-Jae (김민재) transfer in the near future. While disappointing, this stance is not surprising as CSL teams have similarly handcuffed the careers of Korean players in the past. pic.twitter.com/IpPgoYqmh9 — Tavern of the Taegeuk Warriors (@taegeuktavern) January 2, 2020 “You really think of yourself as a world-class defender?” Du said, pointing out he had not seen the evidence. “Know how to respect others, others will only respect you.” China youth team captain He Xiaoke, who plays at Red Star Belgrade in Serbia, was also critical and told Kim to “go to Europe”. Online opprobrium has reached Orwellian levels but 1984’s “Two Minutes Hate” is now significantly longer. For Kim, it is going into the second day and seems set to continue until someone replaces him as the target. Beijing Guoan defender Kim Min-jae has revealed his intention to move to Europe this winter. pic.twitter.com/6AF2liRqwY — Korea Football News (@KORFootballNews) December 19, 2019 For some it is a nationalist issue, more evidence of South Korea looking down on China. One strand of criticism is that Kim is paid US$3 million a year so should be more grateful to a club that let him return to South Korea for his wedding. Kim has apologised at least twice but the club has vowed to punish him. He has said he will accept whatever punishment that may be. There are those hoping he will be sold to a European club, with cynics suggesting that Kim made the comments to force that through after Beijing Guoan refused to sell him this winter. View this post on Instagram Never will i criticise my teammates! Hiding your face when you’re upset in the dressing room is normal... The result is terrible but we’re @manchesterunited we will bounce back for sure with your support! Another big game coming up time to prepare for that one! 200 Goals now in my young career but it’s time to add trophies in my career... time to work even harder A post shared by Romelu Lukaku (@romelulukaku) on Mar 13, 2018 at 9:28pm PDT What is for sure is that there is still no room for honest and open discussions in Chinese football – Guoan’s reported upset that Kim did the interview without permission speaks to the media control. China as a whole has an issue with foreigners sharing negative points of view, even if they are widely held and voiced by locals. That is not going to be lessened by it being a wealthy footballer from a neighbouring country. Whenever foreigners leave and inevitably criticise some element of Chinese football it is always the same response. Perhaps this is to be expected in a country where Marxist-Leninist self-criticism remains a regular punishment and recent history has left a country even more acute to criticism, especially from foreigners. But there is a place for it in football and, as they say, everyone’s a critic. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.