John Yan: Politicians in club shirts 异乡与故乡

Chinese leaders

When a whole nation just has one club to support, there must be something wrong. Even though the club might become the most successful one ever in China’s football history.

Guangzhou Evergrande, yes, the club from Guangzhou again. After winning convincingly in the Asian Champions League (ACL) semi-final, they took their third successive domestic league title with 4 rounds to spare. This time they won the league at their nearest rival’s pitch, defeating Shandong Luneng FC 4:2 on October 6. In contrary to those eight goals in the semi-final of the ACL which were all scored by three foreign players, in the match against Shandong, who were lagging behind Guangzhou by 11 points, all four goals were scored by Chinese internationals.

Guangzhou Never Wins Enough! This is the Cantonese saying about of the club – something which is extremely different from Mandarin. Guangzhou never wins enough, and now the focus is on the final Asian Champions League, at the end of October, home and away against South Korean Seoul FC.

Maybe the slogan is exactly what an ambitious Guangzhou Evergrande feels about themselves, they never win enough, not even with the ACL title to wrap up their season. If they could defeat the Korean club in two rounds, they would qualify for this calendar year’s FIFA World Club Championship in Japan. Then they could test their muscles against the real top club sides like Bayern Munich and the Ronaldinho leading Atlético Mineiro. These are the targets for Guangzhou.

You can imagine how pumped up the whole city is their club, with no-one really caring about the national team at the moment. For this international break week, Team China will play Indonesia in the Asian Cup qualification match – 8 players from Guangzhou Evergrande were selected, but they report to training one day after the rest of the team, and the visit of Marcelo Lippi to the national team’s training base, which is only an hour’s drive from Guangzhou, looks to be more like a tutor’s visit to an elementary school camp.

There is no doubt that Team China is making way for Guangzhou, as the nation is counting on Guangzhou to restore its dignity and confidence in football. Saying the whole nation is baying for Guangzhou might be exaggerating, but the National Sport Administration is rooting for Guangzhou Evergrande whole-heatedly.

During the quarter-final of the ACL in late August, when Guangzhou was playing at home, something weird happened in the half time. When the match restarted, the political leaders came out of their luxurious boxes, all wearing Guangzhou Evergrande’s team shirts!

Among the leaders, there was Mr. Cai Zhenhua, the deputy minister of the National Sport Administration, who used to be a table tennis world champion. He is the high ranking official that the China Football Association reports to. I can’t recall Party politicians ever having worn Team China’s outfits, and yet here comes the Guangzhou Evergrande shirt show!

Mr. Xu Jiayin was walking behind Mr. Cai, with self-effacing smiles on his face. He made it big time.

Just imagine Hugh Robertson or Helen Grant dressing themselves in a Man Utd shirt or Chelsea shirt for a UEFA Champions League matches, if they are not supporters of those two clubs.

Guangzhou and Mr. Xu are sailing on, the football audience are amazed by this club’s four year climb from the second division to the top of Asia. Team China is suddenly not that sexy and might not be for a long while.

John Yan is Deputy Editor of Contact him at moc.l1701567144iamg@17015671448002g1701567144naiqn1701567144ay1701567144, or on weibo at: