Over the Great Wall: Dalian Aerbin and Shandong Luneng are quick off the blocks in 2013

In the second edition of his column focusing on the beautiful game in China, Peter Davis looks at two local sides chasing Chinese Super League supremacy in the 2013 season
By Peter Davis

Most fans could be forgiven for focusing on Beijing and Shanghai when China is concerned, but the provinces of Liaoning and Shandong have produced the Middle Kingdom’s greatest football success. As we approach the year of the snake, two sides from the areas, Dalian Aerbin and Shandong Luneng, have signaled their intent to test the Marcelo Lippi-lead Guangzhou Evergrande’s hold on the CSL.

Dalian Aerbin, a side just over three years old, bagged a huge signing in Guillaume Hoarau from Paris Saint-Germain in the last week. Hoarau, capped five times for France, has drawn comparisons to fellow countryman Nicolas Anelka, who failed to impress in a tumultuous year at Shanghai Shenhua.

He joins UEFA Champions League winner and club captain Seydou Keita, ex-Middlesborough man Fábio Rochemback, Australia international Daniel Mullen, 2012 CSL Golden Boot runner-up Peter Utaka and Ghana international Lee Addy.

“[Anelka] is a good striker, but I believe I will be stronger than him. I can reach the achievements he has made”
- Guillaume Hoarau

“[Anelka] is a good striker, but I believe I will be stronger than him,” the 193-centimetre tall striker told Chinese media. “I can reach the achievements he has made.”

“There are so many good players in China, world football’s future may be in China.”

This is not the only step Aerbin have made toward CSL domination; the club’s ownership group hope to finalise the purchase of historic Dalian Shide for approximately €39 million.

Shide, first known as Dalian Football Club, replaced a side named Dalian Dockyards in 1983. In 1994, new sponsorship rebranded the club as Dalian Wanda as they took part in Jia-A, the first professional Chinese football league. Wanda eventually became Shide, and the side from the north-east took seven of the Jia-A’s ten titles in addition to the CSL’s second championship in 2005. Two FA Cup wins and the 2001 Asia Cup Winner’s Cup made Shide the undisputed kings of Chinese football at the time.

Aerbin should inherit [Shide's] well-structured academy, which has produced [...] numerous Chinese internationals such as Sun Jihai

While most of Shide’s players will move from Dalian, Aerbin should inherit their well-structured academy, which has produced great results and numerous Chinese internationals such as Sun Jihai, Zhang Enhua and Li Ming over the years. Dalian’s new top side have emerged quickly, rocketing to the top of the pyramid by winning the third division and China League One consecutively before an impressive first season in the CSL saw them finish fifth.

Meanwhile, Shandong Luneng, the last team other than Guangzhou Evergrade to capture the title; have started 2013 just as brightly. The 2006, 2008, and 2010 winners have appointed former Atletico Madrid manager Radomir Antic as successor to Henk ten Cate and interim coach Wu Jingui. Luneng will demand improvement following a disappointing 12th-place finish in 2012 and a semi-final CFA Cup defeat to Guizhou Renhe.

With his invaluable experience in managing the Serbian national side as well as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Celta Vigo, Antic could be a great acquisition for the club. He arrived in Shandong to a great reception and went straight into pre-season with his side, where he has started brightly with friendly wins over fellow CSL sides, Tianjin Teda (2-0) and Hangzhou Greentown (4-0).

"[Chinese] football is developing really well and they’ve got the money to make things happen"

- Ryan McGowan

Luneng have also made their first big splash in the transfer market, bagging Australian international defender Ryan McGowan for a fee of £400,000 from Hearts.

“Their football is developing really well and they’ve got the money to make things happen” McGowan told The Scotsman. “The facilities and everything like that are excellent. For example, [Luneng] have just built a 20,000 stadium for their reserve team.”

Fellow Australian international Michael Marrone has also moved to China with re-instated CSL side Shanghai Shenxin, who escaped relegation after the Shide purchase was announced. They’ll be one of three Shanghai sides in the top flight, along with Shenhua and newly-promoted Shanghai East Asia.

Without the packed schedule of Asian Champions League competitors Evergrande, Jiangsu Sainty, Beijing Guoan and Guizhou Renhe, the likes of Aerbin and Luneng should be able to concentrate on an improved CSL performance, berths in next year’s ACL, and perhaps the CSL championship itself.

Beijing-based Peter Davis watched Liaoning Whowin play Chengdu Blades in 2008 and has been hooked on Chinese football ever since. He is a regular contributor to Wild East Football and can be found on Twitter at @peteydavis