So the Chinese Super League season is almost half way through now, with 14 rounds having been completed. There has been a mixture of shocks and predictable results so far this season, with one club in particular failing to meet expectations. As promised, I will fill you in on what’s been happening over the last few months in the CSL and also discuss potential transfers during the window which opens in less than a week.
Who are the winners so far?
Let’s begin by look at the three clubs who’ve so far had great season’s, starting with the perennial front runners, Guangzhou Evergrande. Champions for the past six seasons, Hengda are putting together one of their best season’s to date. Phil Scolari’s men are gunning for a seventh straight CSL title and have shown no signs of letting up in the face of their challengers. Despite failing to win 2 of their first 4 games, losing at Shandong and drawing against local rivals Fuli, the Canton club have gone on to win their last 10 league games, as well as progressing to the last 8 of the Asian Champions League, which they will be hoping to win after losing early on last year. Goulart remains one of the top scorers, as he has been for the last two seasons since his move from Brazil. Paulinho claims that Barcelona want to sign him, but he’s more than happy to stay in Guangzhou and who can blame him? The Brazilian has once again been excellent in the centre of midfield and is likely to see his trophy haul increase yet again come November. However, if rumours are correct Barcelona could be willing to pay up to £35 million for the former Spurs midfielder, which would be a huge compliment to the Chinese Super League.
The second placed club is currently Shanghai SIPG, managed by Andre Villas-Boas. Shanggang have enjoyed a marvellous season thus far, yet still find themselves sitting 4 points behind Evergrande. AVB has had the Shanghai club playing the free flowing attacking football that the owner wanted, with Hulk scoring a very impressive 9 goals in 14 games despite at times being accused of being too relaxed on the pitch. Oscar was having a great season until recently. The Brazilian was banned for 8 games after supposedly intentionally kicking the ball into the head of two Fuli players in a match two weeks ago. Having seen the incident on replay, I have to say that it did appear to be intentional, but I feel that an 8 game ban is harsh, and could possibly have been motivated by the fact that Oscar is a big money foreigner. This incident is further proof that the CSL appears to be making life tougher for some of the players who have left the west to ply their trade in China.
The other team I’d like to mention here is Guangzhou Fuli, or R&F as they’re known in English. If this article had been written a few weeks ago, Fuli would have probably topped my list of winners, but unfortunately they’ve tailed off with a series of draws to leave them in 5th place. For a relatively small club, they are still punching above their weight and with Zahavi in their ranks, they could go on to do something special in the remaining 16 games. The Israeli is currently joint top of the scoring charts with Goulart, having scored a brilliant 11 goals in 14 games. If you read my pre-season report, I stated that Zahavi is the one to watch this season and he hasn’t disappointed. I would fully expect one of the big boys to bid for him during the transfer window, considering he is without doubt the best player who is currently not playing for a top 4 club in terms of financial clout. Fuli actually won their first 5 games of the season, but have only won 1 from their last 9, although 6 of those games have been draws. I really hope Fuli can regain their form because they’re my favourite club in the league apart from my chosen club, Chongqing Lifan, of whose matches I was a regular visitor 2 years ago.
Who are the losers?
Well the clear winner of that race is Jiangsu Suning. The Nanjing club were very highly rated after a strong finish to last season. My pre- season predictions stated that I expected them to finish second and maybe even push for the title. However, after an abysmal run of just 1 win in 14 games, including 7 losses, they sit 15th and occupying the second relegation spot after 14 games. Nobody is quite sure with regard to what has happened at the club, but persistent injuries to frontman Martinez have most definitely not helped. He has only managed to play a part in 6 games so far, scoring no goals. This represents a huge drop in form after an excellent debut campaign last term. In addition, Teixeira has generally failed to justify his price tag after signing from Shakhtar Donetsk in January 2016. He had a modest season last year, but this year he has only notched 4 goals all season and has looked generally disinterested in proceedings. Ramires remains bright but looks a shadow of the player who was a mainstay in the Chelsea starting lineup for 4 years. The club have recently brought in Capello as manager and they will hope he can turn things around, although his first game was an uninspiring 0-0 draw with also struggling Beijing Guo’an.
Yanbian Funde and Henan Jianye were both predicted to struggle by my co- writer John. He believed that these two clubs would go down this year and he hasn’t been far from wrong so far. Yanbian were always going to suffer from second season syndrome this year, and as expected they’re currently rock bottom of the CSL. Last year was something of a dream for the Yanji outfit, winning 10 of their 15 home games, but this year Yanji hasn’t been so much if a fortress, and in fact the club has only managed one win from their first 14. They are currently 4 points adrift of safety, with limited funds compared to other clubs, and questionable location (Yanji is a border town with North Korea), it is very unlikely that they’ll extend their stay in the CSL beyond this season.
Henan are a side who had enjoyed a good couple of years before this, despite an alarming drop in form at the end of 2016 raising concerns for the central Chinese club. Another club who can’t really compete at the top of the financial spectrum, Henan lost a key player in Ivo during the winter. Ivo was their talisman and he could both score goals and more often than not lay on an assist for striker Patino. However, his loss and the lack of form for Sow who was signed from Hearts in 2016, has led to a really poor season for Jianye. The only positive for Henan is that they’re currently above the drop zone by 2 points, but surely Jiangsu will pick up their form and if so, Henan are the likeliest side to drop into the trap door come the end of the season.
The final losers so far are big spending Shanghai Shenhua. Shenhua are the perennial underachievers of the CSL. Having been the first Chinese side to put the league on the map in 2012 when signed Drogba and Anelka from Chelsea, one might imagine them to be one of the more successful teams in the country. However, this is anything but the case. Shenhua regularly finish at higher midtable in the CSL and is season has been no different so far. Big money signings such as Carlos Tevez reignited interest in this huge club, but once again they’ve failed to set the league alight. In fact, Tevez only scored his second goal of the season in the 14th round of matches. On top of that, the Hongkou stadium was tragically set on fire in March, destroying a huge section of the stadium. They only recently played their first match at home and perhaps the huge number of away games has faceted their form, especially given that they are notoriously poor travellers. Perhaps when they have a long stretch of home games in the second half of the season, they’ll start to challenge for an ACL spot which would have been the expectation before the start of the season. Talking of the ACL, Shenhua were embarrassingly eliminated in the qualifying stage by Brisbane Roar of the A-League in Australia.
What about transfers?
Now transfers are what usually spark the most interest in the CSL, but for the first time in two years it appears that the Chinese super league will not break it’s spending record this coming transfer window. That is due to the fact that Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, has placed a 100% tax rate on overseas transfers from foreign clubs. This news is said to be down to a lack of young Chinese talent coming through the heavily invested youth systems. The powers that be believe that the national team is suffering because of the foreign imports, and this has been highlighted by the national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup once again. The Chinese had been expected to finally end their wait for a first World Cup appearance since 2002 after their recent successes in the ACL, but a campaign which included home defeats by war torn Syria and a draw with local rivals Hong Kong once again saw failure and embarrassment for the people of China.
However, thankfully for us the plethora of rumours circling the CSL have not stopped despite the new rules. The biggest story currently is Diego Costa to Tianjin Quanjian. The 6th placed side were seemingly close to signing him in January, but now with Conte apparently happy to see him leave, the £90 million transfer could be set to go ahead. However, new rules mean that the 6th placed club would need to pay £180 million for Costa, but it remains to be seen whether this type of figure would put Chinese clubs off making mega signings.
Another rumour in the pipeline is Wayne Rooney to Tianjin Quanjian or Jiangsu Suning. The Manchester United player is reportedly disillusioned with life in England, and having dropped out of the England squad, could be tempted to seek pastures new. However, having lived in China myself, and knowing how incredibly different life is there compared to in the UK, I can’t imagine Rooney choosing China. I believe he is more likely to seek pastures new in the MLS where English is the first language. Many English players in the past have struggled to adapt to life in European countries such as Spain, so a player settling in China seems extremely unlikely.
Keep following the blog for further news in big transfers regarding the CSL as the transfer window nears!