Shanghai Shenhua must be sitting back and thinking ‘if only’ as they watch the trio of Chinese clubs sweep all before them in the Asian Champions League.
Jiangsu, Shanghai SIPG and Guangzhou Evergrande have played nine total matches in the tournament thus far and are yet to lose, with Jiangsu and SIPG each having won their three matches.
Home or away, in pre-season or not, in heat or the cold the CSL clubs have been imperious in marching towards what could be an historical number of semifinalists from the one nation come the second half of the year.
Some though are asking – and with good justification – whether or not this truly represents a positive shift for football in China or whether rather these stunning results are purely down to the influence of the expensively assembled foreign stars that have had a key role in almost all of those victories.
Of the nine goals that SIPG have plundered six have been scored by Brazilians; likewise Samba stars have grabbed six of the ten that Guangzhou have scored and all four that Jiangsu have managed in forcing their way to the top of their section.
Looking back on matchday two and factoring in Brazilians from other clubs, that nation alone accounted for 12 goals in just eight matches; a truly astonishing haul.
In fact that tally was greater than the number scored in total in all bar two matches on the final day of the actual Brazilian league season last year.
We’ve also seen three different Spaniards, two Croatians, a Montenegrin, a Senegalese and even a Guinea-Bissauan on the scoresheet in various matches.
Looking deeper, of the 79 goals scored in the eastern half of the draw to date barely half have actually been scored by an Asian footballer.
Whilst there’s no doubt that the varied foreign influence has made for some top quality attacking football and some stunning goals along the way the question needs to be asked, ever so quietly, just where does this leave young forwards in the region?
Long a problem in the leading domestic leagues of Japan, Korea and Australia the issue is now spreading right across the continent where clubs will employ almost all of their available foreign slots in attacking roles with the locals forced either to the bench, to clubs with smaller budgets or down a division.
That in turn has a huge flow-on effect for the national teams that are struggling to find genuine goalscorers that are good enough to compete on the international stage and nowhere is that more prominent than in China.
Gary White coached Shanghai Shenxin in the Chinese first division last year and is now working as a scout for Nike in the nation and he can see both the appeal and the frustration of having such a glut of foreign stars in the key creative roles.
— Gary J. White (@GaryJWhiteTD) August 29, 2016
“I saw this issue first hand where you have a lot of foreign stars with the clear benefit being that it brings more excitement to the league, it helps to attract fans and sponsors and that’s a good thing.
“It also allows young Chinese defenders to test themselves against some of the best forwards and other attacking players on the planet, week-in, week-out, and that’s a clear advantage for the development of those players.
“On the other hand though it really has an impact at national level and we’ve seen that not just in China but in England and many other nations as well.
“With the Chinese national team you see that they’re lacking creativity and fantasy in the attacking third where most goals are scored and created and a lot of that is down to those players not getting to play at a high level for their clubs because of all the foreign players in those key positions.”
The man who led minnows Guam on a fairytale run through to the final stage of qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup though has a solution that could well help fix many of those problems – and that’s to limit the lower leagues in those nations to being purely domestically based, as he told FOX Sports Asia.
“If we have the situation where local players, especially in those attacking positions, are getting squeezed out then one answer can be for them to play in the first division and get a chance to star every week.
“That helps with their development, their touch, their confidence and also then allows top division clubs to bring them in when they are ready to contribute to the team and push for regular starts.”
That would be music to the ears of fans of national teams right across Asia but especially at the bigger nations who struggled mightily to trouble the planet’s best at the last World Cup in Brazil.
It hopefully too would compliment the overseas stars that the clubs are looking to attract and perhaps see a better balance of talent right through the various starting XIs in the ACL.