John Yan: Football stories that are not always about football 恒大往何处去?

I am almost becoming bored of writing about Guangzhou Evergrande week in and week out, but the story just keeps building and is completelyly dominating the Chinese football focus?

Guangzhou Evergrande secured a draw in the first round of the final of the Asian Champions League, 2:2, away to South Korean Seoul FC, on October 26. The match happened in golden time on a Saturday, 6:30pm, creating a new record for live football coverage on TV with distribution across CCTV, local TV stations, portal websites, video websites and mobile app platform.

This is not the first time a club from China has made to the top of Asia’s top professional competition, but it has created a national frenzy because of the way Guangzhou simply swept through the group stage and playoff stage in this year’s ACL, and brings relief from the hopeless performance of China’s national team.

Great media and public attention aroused weeks before the match, and three days before it, when Guangzhou’s team landed in Seoul, was followed by an outbreak of unhappy news broke out: Guangzhou could not get a proper night training session in the stadium, because the Koreans would not turn the floodlight on; the head coach of Seoul FC, Choi Yong-Soo, didn’t rate the Chinese players of Guangzhou; the South Korean media distains the heavy investment model of Guangzhou…

There has always been a distrusting relationship between China and Korea, not to mention the suzerain and colonial bond for hundreds of years. Football has become a useful weapon for the Koreans to cultivate their confidence facing the giant neighbor, but all those above mentioned stories, except from the night floodlight service, were false claims by the Chinese media.

To create a hostile away match atmosphere, to describe the Koreans narrow minded and parsimonious, would certainly stimulate the public interest in this hyped match, and if Guangzhou got a preferred result, the antagonism could only make them bigger heroes.

It panned out to be a very exciting match, Seoul also has three decent foreign players, they scored first, Guangzhou got two back and were sailing towards a famous away win, before the home team nicked one back. All these twists and turns will make the second round on November 9 in Guangzhou mouth-watering.

This is the fifth time that the Asian Football Confederation has changed the model of the final of ACL, which used to be one match like the UEFA CL, then returned to home and away fixture, then to a final at a neutral ground, then back to home and away. From the media’s perspective, home and away could possibly help create more content, especially for football in China.

More than 60 Chinese journalists made the trip to Seoul, the biggest number since China made into the finals of World Cup 2002. But quite a few are not real football journalists, and they are desperate for content.

There is still room for imagination and speculation around the second round of this final. Two away goals seem to be decent advantage, but no team in Asia can underestimate the resilience of Korean football. How would Guangzhou treat the visitors would also draw great interest, but the biggest of all, would be how could Guangzhou Evergrande scale new heights if they climbed to the top of professional football in China.

Mr. Xu Jiayin, the owner of Guanzhou Evergrande FC, entered the football industry just 4 years ago, has invested more than 1 billion YMB (about £100 million) into this club, and made it a top team in Asia. He himself has benefitted from this enormous publicity, become one of the most famous celebrities in China. However, what about next season and the season afterwards? How should he be dealing with the issue that local Chinese players are few and not up to the standard that Evergrande has set for this season? Is there a political career he is seeking after this investment in football?

Football in China is never boring, even if the overbearing focus recently has been on Guangzhou, as it is always not directly related to football.

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1635407031iamg@16354070318002g1635407031naiqn1635407031ay1635407031, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5

恒大往何处去?

十月初的东亚运动会,中国青年队遇上日本青年队,一如既往的完败。

十二月中旬的摩洛哥,世界俱乐部杯决赛,欧洲冠军拜仁慕尼黑的对手,竟然是来自中国的广州恒大……

这样的开篇,一半是事实,一半是臆想。

事实无法改变,哪怕中国国家队在临时主教练傅博的带领下,有了些反弹,却也是因为此前跌入的低谷实在太低,东亚杯有过不错表现,此后亚洲杯预选赛,不论战况如何,都无法真正振作人心。这样的国家队,在广州恒大横扫亚冠联赛的气势下,只能萎缩在角落里,连充当背景板的份量都不够。

另一半虽然是臆想,却未必完全是空穴来风:世俱杯,也就是以前的丰田杯,2013年和2014年被国际足联将主办地改到北非摩洛哥。广州恒大如果在十月底十一月初的亚冠决赛两回合比赛中,打败韩国球队首尔FC,将作为新科亚洲俱乐部冠军代表,进入到世俱杯决赛的争夺,和拜仁慕尼黑、南美解放者杯冠军巴西米内罗竞技等一争高下。

以恒大在亚冠第二年征程横扫千军的雄势,加上他们提前四轮在国内中超联赛卫冕成功,广州恒大还有什么做不到的?

疑问恰恰由此诞生,甚至会随着恒大不断创造纪录而升级:许家印从2010年3月开始正式入主广州俱乐部,易帜为恒大,不到4年时间,一个二级联赛中甲俱乐部,因为超过15亿人民币的猛烈投资,迅疾成为了亚洲职业足坛最炙手可热的新贵。登顶亚洲,还只是许家印的恒大足球构想中第二步,第一步当然是称雄国内,第三步,自然就应该是在世俱杯上取得突破了。

事实上,广州恒大能够参加世俱杯,并不需要这支球队对垒欧洲南美或者非洲中北美冠军俱乐部,取得多好的成绩,这代表亚洲的资格,已经足够成功。世俱杯是一年一度的杯赛,赛时不到两周,世俱杯的冠军荣耀,也因为国际足联的过度干涉,反倒和”世界俱乐部冠军”的赫赫名头有些差距。没有人会指望广州恒大真能在世俱杯为中国足球正名,能参与便是历史性的突破。

问题在于,连世俱杯的参与荣耀都有了,恒大未来怎么办?

这是一个中国足球从未遇到过的难题,一个脱离中国足球现实状况而带来的过于成功的难题。中国职业联赛还从未有过一支如此实力超群的球队,凌驾于所有国内对手之上,并且还能君临亚洲。另一方面,中国足球的现实,依旧是国家队FIFA排名第99位、亚洲第9的惨状。恒大强,中超未必强,国家队依旧弱。恒大还如何进步?

两年前,我从市场营销学的角度,对许家印投资广州俱乐部做过一番分析,觉得这样的投资,是一个区域性房地产企业实现品牌转移和品牌升值的绝佳案例,4年15亿人民币投入,将恒大塑造为一个全国知名乃至亚洲知名的影响力品牌,传统企业的品牌营销手段,只怕花费十倍以上的投入,都未必能取得更好的效果。只是这样的品牌认知增长,终于走到了一个瓶颈:恒大已经名满天下;许家印在天河体育场的主席台上,省长书记市长们早已高朋满座,连国家体育局局长都能在亚冠比赛半场更换恒大球衣;恒大亚冠半决赛创造了破纪录的电视收视率;恒大又一次将许多绝望的中国球迷,拉回到了支持者行列中。

但下一步是什么?功利现实的目标早已超标准实现,政治资本的积攒也已经完成,比王健林还要成功。今后维持这个俱乐部的运营,需要持续稳定的高投入,俱乐部本体的收入产出,未来五年十年都不可能让成本回归。国家队已经属于政府直属体制内,许家印哪怕愿意将里皮贡献给国家队,也不可能直接用他的俱乐部成功模式,帮助中国国家队实现进入世界杯决赛圈的壮举。

矛盾由此出现。说恒大成了国家队,这只是中国足球的变态所在,让一个国家都去支持一个俱乐部球队,实际上是这个国家足球失败的体现,因为国家队才应该是这个国家足球水平的集中体现。许家印通过恒大实现了品牌升级和个人扬名,但作为市场体制代表的他和恒大,即便有天纵之能、愿投入巨额资金,也不可能完成一个国家足球发展的使命。

而一个俱乐部急速蹿升冲得太猛,会留下大量基本功课需要回补;高速发展,从来都会留下后遗症。迈向最巅峰的同时,也是隐患浮现的盛世之危。