Bottles were flying on the pitch side, and Guangzhou Evergrande & Taobao FC were losing their grip on the Asian Champions League Trophy bit by bit. The quarter final of ACL between the trophy holders and the Australian club, West Sydney Wanderers, played August 27, was a spirit sapping match.
The Australian side is not that strong that anyone would consider them favorite to qualify for the semi-final, however, they came with a clear tactical plan, executed with great efficiency and fought with the obvious Aussie hard nose – they could tackle and hassle to cause some bloody noses all round.
The final score was a 2:1 victory to Guangzhou, but they lost the away fixture 0:1, and exited this competition on the away goals rule. When they won the trophy eight months ago, the club’s name was still Guangzhou Evergrande, now you need to add Taobao on to that. We need to explain a bit: Taobao.com is the leading online business website in China, and with a flamboyant chairman, Mr. Ma Yun. Mr. Xu Jiayin, invited Ma Yun to be a partner of his club, and after 15 minutes of chat on mobile phone, Ma Yun agreed to purchase 50% of the club at the price of 1.2 billion RMB (£ 120 million). The deal was agreed on 5 June,2014, and the club renamed itself then.
Ma Yun had not been to a football match before in his life, and wrote a blog piece taunting the failures of China football for the past years. His sudden involvement in football stirred up a lot of questions regarding his real intention. Ma did attend the ACL quarter final home fixture, for his first real experience of a football match. When the match ended with Guangzhou winning but relegated because of the away goal rule, Ma was caught on TV camera loudly applauding with a grinning face, while Xu, who sat by his side, couldn’t hide his disappointment. The scene caused quite a stir on social media, as many doubted whether Mr. Ma understands the rules.
Guangzhou out of the ACL, but the domestic season is still on, and they are still leading by 6 points in the league with 8 rounds to play. The domestic season, which runs from March till November, was terribly disrupted by the World Cup, when the China Super League had to enter a hiatus period for two months to give way for the Brazil event. But just as the season was about to resume, another case relating to Guangzhou and the China FA erupted.
It all originated from a footballer named Liu Jian, who was signed by Guangzhou before the season started. Liu Jian is a full China international, and used to be the captain of the relegated club Qingdao FC. As Guangzhou signed him, he was declared a free agent. However, his former club disagreed, and three different versions of contracts came out. One indicated that Liu had two more years with Qingdao FC, with an annual salary of less than 1 million RMB, the second indicated his contract expired at the end of 2013, with an annual salary of close to 3 million RMB, and the absurd third one included some other funny clauses. A further unpheaval came with when Liu Jian put forward his own version of the contract to the CFA, asking for arbitration, as his former club would never let him go freely.
The CFA took its time to make a decision, which allowed Liu Jian to join Guangzhou in mid-April. Qingdao FC did not accept the decision, and they went to arbitration. On August 16, the CFA issued a punishment to Qingdao FC, docked them 7 points from their struggle in the second division and handed out a 400,000 RMB penalty. The next day, Qingdao FC held an open news conference, saying they would not accept that and would fight the CFA till the end.
How could a footballer have three contracts with the same club during the same period of time?
This is nothing unusual, it is called the Yin and Yang contracts.
The origin dates back to more than ten years ago, when the CFA issued several policies of regulating footballers’ salaries, setting all kinds of ridiculous of salary caps but without any rigorous methods to regulate them. Therefore, the club would always provide CFA with a fake contract, simply just keep one on record that was correct due to CFA policies, but sign another real one with the player for their market price.
This is the typical conflict of systems that Chinese society is still going through, from the Soviet-style central planning system to the market oriented system. The CFA did have a number of chances to clear the air and abolish all the funny policies they issued from time to time, but nobody is taking responsibility. And when Liu Jian’s transfer uncovered the true stories about all the contracts, the CFA lost more face and grounds in regulating the league and the football industry.
The clock is ticking, as another introspecting group from the central government is inside the National Sports Bureau for football and other related researches. The President of China kept saying how he loves football and how important football would be for the future, and the CFA is still dozing off in limbo. Something is about to happen.
Guangzhou is out of Asian competition for this season, but they will be back next year for sure. Marcelo Lippi, the head coach, signed up his former disciple, the Italian striker Alberto Gilardino as a replacement for the leaving South Americans. Mr. Ma’s share of the club ownership has pumped more cash into this club so they would do well in the domestic league and Asia, but there will be more stories coming from the higher end of Chinese football.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1524137416iamg@15241374168002g1524137416naiqn1524137416ay1524137416, or on weibo at:http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5