“World’s sixth best soccer league” at crossroads

XI’AN: Guangzhou Evergrande snatched its eighth Chinese Super League (CSL) title in nine seasons on Sunday, relieving its fans’ sadness about losing in the semifinal in the AFC Champions League.
With the team failing to become the best team in Asia, some disappointed Chinese soccer fans say that the CSL is no longer the sixth-best soccer league in the world.
Guangzhou Evergrande was back to the highest podium in China, while the team’s former head coach Marcello Lippi ended his second coaching stint in China’s national team. How can China improve the national team’s performances by redesigning the league’s rules? At the year-end, the CSL is at a crossroads.
At the beginning of the 2019 season, the league defending champions Shanghai SIPG allowed two of its best players Wu Lei and Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso to leave, although the club failed to grab any trophy in the year except the CFA Super Cup, the club won kudos and the respects of many Chinese football fans.
Under the lead of Fabio Cannavaro, Guangzhou Evergrande won the CSL for the first time since 2018. Some veterans in the team, such as ZhengZhi, Li Xuepeng and FengXiaoting, suffered injuries or fatigue, while Cannavaro gave many chances to younger players such as Wei Shihao, Yang Liyu, ZhongYihao, enabling the CSL powerhouses to build a younger squad. The squad had a mixture of energy and experience, helping the team dominate the upper hand when facing against its powerful rivals.
Guangzhou Evergrande won six of seven games at the beginning of the season’s CSL, keeping an unbeaten record between the ninth round and the 23rd round. Then the team had a struggling period, pocketing four points in just four games. Before a break, the club announced 39-year-old skipper ZhengZhi would take temporary charge while Cannavaro attended “corporate culture training.”
At last, the former Ballon d’Or winner returned to the club as head coach, after the Italian handed a written self-reflection report to the club investor XuJiayin.
In the 28th round, Guangzhou Evergrande defeated Shanghai SIPG 2-0, just one step away from the highest place of the league podium. In the last round, the elite team edged Shanghai Shenhua 3-0. Compared with the runners-up Beijing Guo’an, Guangzhou Evergrande had a two-point advantage.
Beijing Guo’an, another CSL title favorite, were the half-season bellwether. But the team didn’t have enough reserve players when its key players suffered injuries in the second half of the league. When facing against Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG, China’s capital team suffered three defeats in four games.
Guo’an sacked its head coach Roger Schmidt in July. It wasn’t seen as a proper decision by many, although Schmidt’s successor Bruno Genesio kept the team’s hope of grabbing the trophy alive until the last round.
Shenzhen and Wuhan Zall, the two newly-promoters in the league, had two completely different fates in the season. Between the third round and the 21st round, Shenzhen only had one win. In the 29th round, although Shenzhen held onto a 3-3 draw with Henan Jianye, the result couldn’t prevent the club’s relegation.
“We don’t have enough courage or experience on the field. That’s why we couldn’t stay in the CSL,” Shenzhen’s head coach Roberto Donadoni said. – Agencies

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