Article about Corruption in the Chinese Super League

Former England international goalkeeper, Ian Walker played for Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City and Bolton Wanderers. He is now goalkeeper coach of Shanghai Dongya. InWalks the Walk he talks football and China.

The first time I thought something was up was back in 2012 as we approached the end of the season during my first year coaching at Shanghai Shenhua. We were playing away to a local rival. It was 2-2, and both their goals came from penalties. Both dubious at best. Something just wasn’t right. Either the referee was really bad, or he was corrupt. Because to me, it was blatant.

I was peeved off to be honest. You work hard all week to win the game, and then it gets taken away just like that. You feel powerless – there is absolutely nothing you can do. Why the hell are we bothering when things like this can happen?

After that, there was probably another three or four games that season where you felt things weren’t right. Mainly penalties. We had a lot of penalties against us. Sometimes you think it could have been a penalty, but a lot of the time there was simply no way. Somebody’s just slipped over in the box and the ref has given it. No one has touched the player.

The funny thing is, one year later we returned to this same local rival. We drew 2-2, their goals were both penalties and both were dodgy. No way! Things cannot happen this way. It just felt ridiculous. It just can’t carry on like this. It’s crazy.

It is telling that I first observed it late in my first season. In a team meeting, one of my fellow coaches had warned us it was imperative we avoided being in the relegation dogfight once we approached the run-in: “When the season gets to 10 games to go, there are certain teams at the bottom of the league who will all of a sudden start getting results,” he explained.

Maybe they’ve just got little alliances. Maybe someone owes them a favor – we’ll let you win in the cup for three points in the league. Sure enough, that is exactly what started happening. Teams that had been getting beaten week in, week out suddenly hammering a top four team 4-1. (I could name names…)


It went in our favor at Shenhua once, too. The league was tight: a couple of wins could have put us top four; a couple of defeats and relegation would be a very real prospect. We weren’t playing well and everyone was getting a bit nervous. And then all of a sudden there was a tussle in the box and the referee gave us a penalty.

Even when it goes your way, for your team, you think that is a bit soft. A bit dodgy. So anyway, we score, we end up winning the game, and we’re safe. You’re still not 100 percent sure, but it doesn’t sit well. You certainly don’t want to win that way.

This was when Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka were in the team, and they were both shocked by it. You can see the opposition foreign players’ reactions to it too. They look at you and you’re like, “Yeah, I know.” When it happens against you… you can’t really console those on the receiving end. It can really devastate the players who are not used to it.

It is weird when you come from playing in the English Premier League, where you like to think everything is straight. I can honestly say I never got the feeling that anything was ever fixed in the EPL.

That is not to say it doesn’t happen in Europe. My only personal experience of it back there was when I was with Bolton playing in the group stages of the Europa League. We had leveled 1-1 with Seville, a result that would take us both through, and their coach ran round the back of our dugout to our coach gesticulating (not particularly subtly) that we should both settle for the draw – no more goals.

Our coach would never allow that to happen. That is not the English mindset. Which is why I think people like our league. But it is also worth noting it wasn’t the referee, it wasn’t the players It was just their coach. And it was strange to us.

I’m happy to say the same goes for the club I’m at now, Shanghai Dongya (or Shanghai East Asia as we are also known). The manager is old school, straight up, and he won’t have any of it. Wherever we end up, he does everything honestly. It’s probably the best way.

As for how engrained it is, I can’t say.

You just never know what forces are behind the whole thing. It could be people being bunged envelopes for a quick, corrupt fix of cash. But then you hear about places like Malaysia and their infamous betting syndicates, and stories about some heavy people behind it. I can only speculate at the full story, what pressure is being put on people.

All I can hope is that the CFA continues to do what they can to clamp down on it – they’ve even put people in prison, so they’re certainly addressing it.

Because ultimately, if it isn’t a level playing field, if the game is fixed, why play?

China bows down to ‘Devil Beast’ Drogba

SHANGHAI: Didier Drogba’s first month in China is being heralded as an unequivocal success, the powerful Ivory Coast striker earning rave reviews, the moniker “Devil Beast” and being compared to “a nuclear bomb”.

The 34-year-old became one of the world’s highest-paid players when he swapped European Champions League winners Chelsea for the relative obscurity of the ambitious Shanghai Shenhua, in China’s Super League.

Vocal in English football, Drogba has kept a low profile off the pitch since arriving in China to a hero’s welcome in mid-July, insisting that his reported 200,000 pounds ($314,000) a week was not the main motivation.

“China is a big sports country and it is a big challenge,” said Drogba on his arrival, fresh from scoring the goal which won Chelsea the Champions League.

“For me it would have been easy to go to another team in Europe but I chose China because of the challenge.”

Drogba got off to a flying start at struggling Shenhua — then 12th in the 16-team Super League — scoring twice on his home debut in the 5-1 thrashing of longtime rivals Hangzhou Greentown and quickly earning the tag “Devil Beast”.

The fanatical home crowd, swelled from the usual 15,000 to 25,000, chanted the veteran’s name repeatedly and gave him a rousing cheer as he performed the traditional post-match bow.

“Shenhua’s nuclear bomb has arrived,” Shanghai goalkeeper Wang Dalei said of his new team-mate, who joins another former Chelsea striker, Nicolas Anelka, at the club.

Although Chinese teams have been luring a fast-expanding group of foreign stars to play for enormous salaries, Drogba is the highest paid and has quickly become a fan favourite, eclipsing Anelka.

“We suddenly found out that football, which is very close to us, can be so thrilling, so touching and so good that you can’t help but tremble,” prominent football commentator Ji Yuyang wrote in the Oriental Sports Daily.

Despite the plaudits, Drogba has had only a negligible effect on his team so far. He has not found the net since his double and Shenhua are still struggling, creeping up to 10th in the table.

Not that the fans are laying any blame on their new hero, who is on international duty on Wednesday when Ivory Coast play Russia in a friendly in Moscow.

“Reliable, exciting and full of class, he’s a real leader on the pitch, hopefully he will lead us to glory over the next two years,” said Lu Xiaoming, a long-time Shenhua fan.

British expatriate Andy Summers, another Shenhua supporter, added: “It takes time to settle in, but he’s played great so far.”

The biggest name to play in Chinese football, fans in the northeastern city of Changchun clambered over locked stadium gates to get a glimpse of Drogba during a training session when Shenhua visited for a cup match.

Shenhua’s eccentric owner, Zhu Jun, posted a photo online showing the bashed-up back of Drogba’s silver Mercedes-Benz Viano after enthusiastic fans gave chase and rear-ended the vehicle, though he was not inside.

Drogba is a rare beam of light in a league battling to recover from a bribery scandal that saw scores of officials and players jailed for match-fixing.

Although that was before Drogba’s highly anticipated arrival on a two-and-a-half-year contract, scars remain and many Chinese fans still prefer to follow European clubs.

Shenhua have their own issues. Zhu, a billionaire online gaming tycoon, is notorious for putting himself on in matches — despite being in his 40s and mediocre on the pitch.

During his pursuit of the player, Zhu said that “chasing Drogba is like trying to get a girl, you put in too much effort and she seems less interested”.


Love football, hate business

On Wednesday 25th of July, 2012, Manchester United beat Shanghai Shenhua 1-0.

As a football fan, I was happy to watch this game to see newly signed Didier Drogba and controversial Nicolas Anelka challenging their old Premier League rival mates.

Speaking football, Kagawa found the net in the 68th minute and former Chelsea stars Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka did not play as 90% of MU regular team…

Off the pitch, I was surprised that the official 42,000 crowd (from my opinion more 25,000 to 30,000) was 95% dressed in red devils colors… Are we not in Shanghai? How come a all city cannot support his own team?

I finally got my answer below:

SHANGHAI: Shanghai Shenhua fans boycotted a friendly against Manchester United to protest at the match being played in the middle of the Chinese league season, supporters of the club told AFP Thursday.

The English giants are among several Premiership sides currently touring Asia, in what are widely seen as attempts to build up their fanbases in a potentially hugely lucrative market.

Yes, it was only an exhibition match but I left the stadium with mixed feelings…

  • For a ticket 3 times regular market price, were we not supposed to see more than few famous players on the pitch?
  • A little too much “Chevrolet”, a little too much branding and fan-base construction with not much space for football.

I’m not sure if this pilgrimage of English Premier League teams really helps China building his “own football”.

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