Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye Yang Xiongdi!

There was a friendly between China and Jordan the other day, but I find it too boring and meaningless to discuss here, so let's get to the important news. Yang Pu, a true all around player, a captain and leader, and member of the China national team, is to announce his retirement today, the summation of a 12 year career with Guoan and before that, time with junior sides in the city. Yang was born and raised in Beijing and was Guoan through and through, this year's title victory was the best way for him to go out.

Some reflections of a great career:

We won't see him on the pitch anymore, but he's going to be a part of the Guoan coaching staff next year, so he'll still be around the team he loves.

*photos from Titan Sports

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Champions League Group is Deadly

The Asian Champions League groups are out and they look like this:

Group E
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (KOR), Melbourne Victory (AUS), Beijing Guoan (CHN), Kawasaki Frontale (JPN)

Group F
Kashima Antlers (JPN), Jeonbuk Motors (KOR), Persipura Jayapura (IDN), Changchun Yatai (CHN)

Group G
Henan Jianye (CHN), Gamba Osaka (JPN), Suwon Bluewings (KOR), Play-off East winners

Group H
Adelaide United (AUS), Shandong Luneng (CHN), Cup winners (JPN), Pohang Steelers (KOR)

Okay, I'm only focusing on the East groups and, to be honest, even among them I know very little about the non-Chinese sides, though most writeups talk about Group E as the "group of death". Melbourne's the Aussie league champs, Kawasaki is the J League runners up, and Seongnam is Korea's runners up.

Guoan opens up the campaign at home against Melbourne, so hopefully they'll get off on the right foot. No Chinese squad has an easy go of it, though hopefully at least one will be able to get out of the group stage, unlike this year. Stay tuned as we're 2 months away from the start of the season.

News and Notes

-It seems official, Con gave in and Joel Griffiths will be part of the Guoan squad next year, at the bargain basement loan price of US$350,000.

-For all you trying to figure out the coaching carousel that's going on, Arie Haan signed with Tianjin Teda, while Branko Ivankovic is to head Shandong Luneng, while Miroslav Blazevic is taking charge in Shanghai. It would appear the Changchun and Henan positions have yet to be filled and big names like Lee Jangsoo and Shen Xiangfu (both former Guoan coaches) are still on the market.

-File under hilarious headline, the AFC's website carried an article called "Henan Boss Cancels Chinese New Year to Prepare for ACL." No, she (and yes it is a SHE!) can't unilaterally cancel Chinese New year, but as the holiday falls in the middle of February and the opening match of the Asian Champions League takes place on February 22nd, the GM isn't giving her players the holiday off and instead expects them to be in training over the holiday period.

-I've basically given up hope of scoring tickets to the Guoan victory celebration, it seems they're really cutting out the fans and just holding it for sponsors, I'm sure there will be many who attempt to gate crash and a lot of pissed off people standing outside the National Indoor Stadium.

That's it for today...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

News and Notes

-Guoan's victory celebration will be held at the National Indoor Stadium on December 14th. A time has yet to be set and the ticketing is par for the course in China, instead of giving them directly to the fans, they'll be distributed by the club's sponsors and the media.

-Guoan has a great way of figuring out who to sign for next season, they're going down the scoring leaders from last season and trying to find them. Guangzhou's Ramirez was at the top of the list, but he seems to be courting all parties, talking nicely about Guoan and then stating that he'd prefer going to Shandong.

-In celebration of this year's CSL title, China Post released Guoan commemorative postage stamps and CITIC released a special bottle of Guoan wine.

-Joel Griffiths is returning to Australia for the time being, as the "big swinging dicks" in Beijing and Australia couldn't reach a compromise, though I'd expect we'll see him back in China (most likely Beijing) by the start of next season as he believes playing in China will help him be on the national team squad at the World Cup.

-Speaking of Griffiths, now that Australia is part of Asia, Joel Griffiths' suspension will carry over to the A-League and so therefore he'll be available to play at the start of the next CSL season.

Corruption, Schmurruption, Let's Talk About Soccer

Chinese soccer has long been an easy target for those looking to talk about what's wrong with sport in China. If sport serves as an allegory for society, than soccer speaks volumes about modern China, with its corrupt, do anything to win attitude. The recent scandal involving Wang Xin, a former GM of the Liaoning side, has brought every news agency out of the wood work and got them talking about Chinese soccer. Never mind that most of the reporters writing these stories have never attended a Chinese league match or that they barely know anything about the state of soccer in China, its a story about corruption and they want it.

I guess I can't blame the reporters, its the headline writers and others who try to sex the story up that deserve my ire. At the same time, too many have made it seem that Chinese soccer is still cancerous, when the story that they're reporting on occurred mostly in Singapore in 2007.

First, there are the problems with what these articles are saying. Again, if sport serves as an analogy to society, than the oft quoted Hong Kong University professor Xu Guoqing's assessment is right on the money. He stated that, "To solve the soccer problem in China you need the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Chinese leaders seem quite serious about fixing this, but there is no way they can under the present regime."

While I'm all for the rule of law and independent judiciaries are a great thing, I don't see how these are the key to solving soccer corruption. It would also seem like you could remove the "soccer" part of that quote and add in any other societal ill in China, and the quote would still work.

And while I don't want to beat up on any one story, the Christian Science Moniter article* not only used the above quote, but also included this bit of brilliance, "So bad has Chinese soccer's reputation become that it is fast losing its popular appeal. Chinese state-owned television stopped broadcasting live games a year ago."

Can you not see my frustration? CCTV stopped showing matches toward the end of last season due to an issue with on field violence. They showed games this season and received large ratings. Also, for a league "that is fast losing its popular appeal", the attendance stats from this season, which would be the envy of all but the most elite European leagues (as well as US NBA or NHL teams), would certainly come as a surprise.

I don't want to talk in depth about the corruption scandal and I've put it off this long because it just feels like old news to me. The perpetrators were in China and it appears some Chinese domestic matches were fixed, but the majority of events were in Singapore. I don't believe that I'm willfully blind on this issue, but I think the league has turned a corner and is, generally, clean. Corruption may have some fiending like a drug addict, there may be some incidents here and there, but overall, we've come a long way since the "Black Whistles" of 2001.

Am I being oversensitive or should we see more intelligent, multisided reporting?