CSL Season Preview
As some of you may know, and many of you will not know, the Chinese Super League will commence this coming weekend. As I stated in my previous blog, I’m a huge fan of the world’s fastest developing league. I’m fully aware that despite the money being spent, and the calibre of players that are going to ply their trade in China, many people are still not convinced by the integrity of the league in the world’s most populated country. This blog is aimed at previewing the top 6 teams who will be challenging for CSL glory come early November.
Evergrande, or Hengda as they’re known in Mandarin, are not only the powerhouse of China, but also the whole of Asia. Asia’s first ‘super club’ are bankrolled by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and have legions of supporters throughout the country. Seen as being a feeder club for the Chinese national team, they’re watched by full stadiums almost everywhere they go in the Middle Kingdom. The football aspect is also impressive, with former Premier League star Paulinho holding the defence and midfield together, whilst Brazilian wondered Goulart adds flair to an otherwise solid team. They also boast Jackson Martinez, who will be hoping to improve after a disappointing first campaign. Given their high quality of Chinese players alongside disciplined and dedicated foreigners, they have potential to claim an 8th straight title.
Now managed by former Spurs and Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas, ‘Shanggang’ will be hoping for a large improvement on last season, where they failed to impress under Sven. Having signed Oscar in a mega deal from Chelsea for around £60 million, they should improve dramatically with the passing quality and flair potentially proving too much for most Chinese outfits. In addition to Oscar, they also acquired the services of Hulk from Zenit St Petersburg. He should prove to be a goal machine in China with even the most daring of goalkeepers fearing his shooting accuracy and power. However, the signing of 37 year old Carvalho has failed to excite the fans, who believe he is too old and frail to make a real impact in defence. If Oscar and Hulk can fire then it could prove to be a fruitful season for the red and blacks. Conversely, with doubts about Villas Boas’ genuine quality as a manager, and only one real Chinese star, Wu Lei, they could be left to challenge for Asian Champions League places.
Based in Nanjing, one of the ‘three furnaces’ in China, the Brazilian contingent will feel comfortable at home. Boasting star names Ramires and Alex Teixeira, the club managed by highly rated Korean Choi Yong- soo will have high hopes before the coming season. Perhaps their most impressive player, though, is Colombian Roger Martinez. The South American notched an impressive 13 goals in the second half of last season after signing in the summer transfer window. The club is still yet to sign a fourth high profile foreigner so that is something worthwhile paying attention to before the transfer win down shuts at the end of this week. Originally linked with Rooney, it is now believed they will turn their attention elsewhere with Rooney heavily linked with a move to rivals Tianjin Quanjian in summer. I believe that Suning will provide the strongest title challenge to Hengda this year, possibly going all the way if Teixeira can replicate his form at Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk.
Shenhua are regarded as being one of the traditional Giants of the Chinese game, and are the proud owners of one of the few football stadiums in the country without a running track. On the field, recent years have proven to be testing for the Shanghai powerhouse, having failed to challenge for title. In spite of this, last season turned out to be something of a resurgence for the club, finishing a respectable 4th after years of midtable mediocrity. As a response to greater success, they have decided to invest more to challenge for the elusive championship. However, the season started in woeful fashion, being eliminated by Australian outfit Brisbane Roar in the Asian Champions League qualifying. Overseen by former Sunderland boss Gustavo Poyet, Shenhua managed to lure Carlos Tevez away from his homeland despite previously stating that he wouldn’t move to China. It remains to be seen whether he is truly motivated to play in the world’s fastest growing league. Aside from him, their foreign contingent lacks star names, with Inter flop Freddie Guarin being the pick of the bunch. A tough season could be ahead if Tevez is not on his game from the off. Expect 5th place at best.
Hebei China Fortune
Few people, even within China, had heard of the small provincial Hebei club before they were taken over by a Chinese billionaire in 2015. Since then they have their name known in China and beyond by luring Lavezzi from PSG, which at the time was the biggest named transfer in China since Drogba made the move in 2012. However, last season was rather disastrous with Fortune finishing a disappointing 6th despite an excellent start. Their season turned sour after Lavezzi was deregistered from their squad following a season- ending injury. Gervinho unsurprisingly to Premier League fans, failed to justify his wage and price tag, barely making any impact at all on the league. After failing to bring in any marquee signings, and being saddled with their failed signings from last winter, the season does not bode well for HCFFC. Perhaps the only positive for the club is the acquisition of Manuel Pelligrini after a period of relative success at Manchester City over his three years in charge. Expect them to finish between 6th and 8th.
The final club I will be covering in this article is a team from a city close to the Chinese capital. Tianjin is the second largest city in the north of the country after Beijing, and home to one of the world’s richest football clubs. Despite only being promoted last season under the guidance of Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro, the club has wasted no time in getting their pay checks ready. Perhaps one of the most impressive signings of the window has been the securing of Belgian international Axel Witsel. A player seemingly at the peak of his career will most definitely provide quality in their midfield. They have also signed journeyman Pato from Villareal, although caution must be taken before considering this to be a good signing. A player who looks severely short on confidence could easily prove to be a huge flop in China. Like Suning, they have yet to acquire their final foreign player so keep an eye on my transfer blog for any updates there. Expect Quanjian to impress this year, with one of China’s leading stars Sun Ke offering quality from their Chinese contingent. However, Pato’s poor injury record and their failure to replace Luis Fabiano could limit them to top 4.