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2018 CSL: Challenging year beckons(Part II)

韦侃仑     02-01 15:12     体坛+原创

Written by Cameron Wilson, the chief editor of WildEastFootball

原标题: Challenging year beckons as Chinese football tries to balance entertainment and development

导读: 离2018中超开赛还有一个月时间, WEF站长韦侃仑发表了这段时间他对中国足球的一些见解: 在第二部分,他批判了最新的外援政策,并认为和亚足联‘3+1’外援政策接轨才是理想的做法。

Click here to read the Part I

2018 – Expect further regression on the pitch

I mentioned the foreign player quota cut. This year CSL clubs again are only allowed to field no more than three foreigners in any one CSL game, but now only four are allowed in the whole squad instead of five. Also new this year is a rule stipulating each club must not field less u23 players than the number of foreign players fielded and must start with at least one u23. Does that sound complicated? Yes, because in football it’s meant to be a simple matter who can appear – teams just pick the 11 best players for the game. The now convoluted quota rules risk turning supporters off. If the fans and media face unnecessary complications in working out which players may appear on the pitch, how is that going to attract more supporters? How is that going to help popularise the game further? It only irritates those who already follow the Chinese game and alienates potential new followers. It can also be inferred that by linking the number of foreign players to the number of Chinese u23 players used that foreign players are a necessary evil in the game and somehow to blame for u23 players not getting enough pitch time. This is not the case. There have been plenty of over-paid and under-performing foreigners in China over the years, but that is no different to anywhere else. And the new rule ignores the uncomfortable truth that some of the most over-paid and under-performing have actually been Chinese players.

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Top U-23 players become high-valued in the transfer market

Similarly this year may be the last we see Chinese clubs be serious Asian Champions League contenders. The CFA very unwisely cancelled the 3+1 rule or Asian foreigner rule at the start of last season, but since it was basically too late for any of CSL clubs in the Asian Champion’s League to get rid of their Asian players, they were able to field four foreigners in ACL games since the ACL still uses the 3+1 rule. This year it appears most of the Chinese ACL clubs are keeping an Asian foreigner in their squad, but as time goes on its more and more likely top CSL clubs will max out their four foreigner allocation on players from outside the continent. And don’t forget that in the past many of China’s Asian players were some of South Korea and Australia’s stronger players and by signing them, CSL clubs were often directly weakening ACL opponents.

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'3+1' policy is helpful for CSL players to maintain their strength in AFC Champions League

In addition, and unbelievably, recently the CFA contemplated allowing Chinese clubs in the ACL play an extra Asian foreigner in the CSL to encourage them to keep an Asian player to play in ACL matches, but thankfully common sense prevailed and sporting integrity won out since other clubs in the CSL would not have enjoyed this unfair advantage.

Bring back 3+1

Ultimately, having different foreign player quota rules for your domestic league compared to the ACL has clear disadvantages. The 3+1 rule which is standard in most countries in Asia, and the Asian Champions League, is a useful mechanism which creates demand for, and stimulates the movement of, Asian players within Asia. This in turn can help players from one country who are perhaps not good enough to get a game in Europe move to a higher level in Asia. This also helps redistribute wealth via transfer fees and help the development of the game all over Asia. If the standard is raised continent-wide, then everyone can benefit from that, including China, in the shape a potentially higher number of World Cup qualifying slots. But whoever it is making executive decisions at the CFA is clearly not thinking with much foresight, nor do those really in control of it seem to understand football. This was demonstrated vividly last year when the foreign player quota was cut in the middle of a transfer window – something no-one with even a rudimentary understanding of how football works would ever sanction. So here we see another recurring theme in Chinese football – the lack of independence from General Sports Administration control, which foists short-termist measures on the game which fail to take into the account the practical needs of a professional football league.

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The revoke of '3+1' policy makes it more difficult for Asian players to stay in CSL

Expect a rough year

So this year expect standards on the pitch to fall further as the narrative, as always, drifts away from football and towards rules, politics, skulduggery and money. This is a great tragedy because what Chinese football lacks most critically is a widespread culture of football where the sport is loved and is part of the fabric of society, where parents give up evenings and weekends to run kids football teams. Where kids look up to locally-born footballing heroes instead of foreign ones. Where early-round cup games allow provincial towns the chance to see their club take on the big guns from the east coast on a Saturday afternoon instead of the CFA assuming no-one will turn up and putting the game on in the middle of the working day. Whilst I greatly applaud some other recent rule-changes which place limits on teams renaming themselves and relocating to other cities, these are just the bare foundations which only now appear to be finally in place.

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Prime goal for CFA: Nurturing healthy football culture in China

The new foreign player and u23 rules forget the key function of the CSL – to provide the highest standard possible of professional football matches for the Chinese public to watch. The CSL is not a development league or some bizarre sporting laboratory. Only by focusing on the goal of making quality, entertaining football can the lack of a widespread football culture really be changed, and more youngsters be inspired to take up the game from an earlier age thanks to a better local league to aspire to play in.

Despite everything, we can only hope 2018 can still provide us with thrills and spills on the pitch instead of, as is too often the case in China, off it.