The new Chinese Super League season begins with the Guangzhou derby on Friday when Fabio Cannavaro’s reigning champions Evergrande host southern city rivals R&F.
But Chinese football has lost some of its lustre: Carlos Tevez is back in Argentina after his disastrous year at Shanghai Shenhua and new rules means Chinese clubs have not splurged on foreign talent as in previous years.
AFP Sport highlights five talking points ahead of the big kick-off:
Mascherano is no Tevez
Chinese football fans could be forgiven for being sceptical about Hebei China Fortune’s signing of Mascherano. The 33-year-old central defender’s career has been closely intertwined with his fellow Argentine Tevez, who was dubbed “very homesick boy” by disgruntled Shanghai Shenhua fans last year. But Mascherano, the most eye-catching arrival in the winter transfer window, is no Tevez when it comes to attitude and could be smart business given the former Liverpool and Barcelona player’s wealth of experience.
Bakambu worth the bother
Beijing Guoan’s drawn-out pursuit of striker Cedric Bakambu from Villarreal looks like having repercussions throughout the Chinese Super League (CSL). The Chinese FA last year imposed a 100 percent transfer tax on incoming foreign players and Guoan appear to have attempted to circumvent that rule. The unamused Chinese FA will be determined not to let other teams follow suit. Amid all that, it’s easy to forget that Bakambu is a prolific goalscorer who will find CSL defences significantly more generous than those in Spain’s La Liga.
Big season for Cannavaro
Italian World Cup winner Fabio Cannavaro steered Tianjin Quanjian into the AFC Champions League last season before quitting to take over from Luiz Felipe Scolari at Guangzhou Evergrande, who have won the CSL for the last seven seasons. An eighth will be tough because Evergrande did not significantly strengthen in the close season. Early results for Cannavaro have been mixed, drawing twice in the Champions League, including a 1-1 home draw with Thailand’s Buriram United. Evergrande did defeat Shenhua 4-1 in the Chinese Super Cup.
Can Pereira trump Villas-Boas?
Former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas went close in three competitions but failed to win a trophy in his turbulent in charge at Shanghai SIPG. He quit and was replaced by fellow Portuguese Vitor Pereira, last seen taking 1860 Munich down into Germany’s third tier. With Hulk and Oscar, SIPG ought to be doing better — and scoring more goals — and at least one title this season is a minimum requirement for Pereira. Fans were underwhelmed by his appointment, but early indications are good, SIPG winning their qualifying round and both group matches so far in the AFC Champions League under their new boss.
Chinese FA get tough
As Villas-Boas discovered to his disdain, the Chinese FA are unpredictable. They imposed a swingeing transfer tax and rules limiting foreign players midway through last season and Villas-Boas was twice banned for minor indiscretions. Oscar was hit with a harsh eight-game punishment for starting a brawl, badly hurting SIPG’s CSL title bid. The Chinese government is desperate to stop the big spending on overseas stars and instead promote local talent. It would be no surprise if the Chinese FA popped up with some new startling rules off the pitch and heavy punishments for players and coaches who misbehave on it.