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 Contact him at moc.l1708480319iamg@17084803198002g1708480319naiqn1708480319ay1708480319, or on weibo at: