Disciplinary action in the Chinese Super League is in need of a complete overhaul.
If China really wants to be considered an emerging power in world football they need to put an end to what increasingly appears to be random, emotion-driven, bans and have a consistent approach to any disciplinary issues whether involving locals or the band of highly paid foreign stars.
In many ways the recent rise of Chinese football can be traced back to a match-fixing scandal close to a decade ago, but just as the ascent began in turmoil so too is the current plateau embroiled in a series of sand shifting regulatory moves, baffling bans and fines handed down by the CFA.
In early 2010 a Guangzhou side that had for much of the previous decade been mired in the second division were found guilty in a match-fixing case and demoted from the top flight. But rather than a long and tough struggle for survival they were found ripe for the picking by the Evergrande property group, which not only bought the club, but began to pump in an unprecedented amount of cash into the staff and players.
So began the rapid emergence of a club that hadn’t finished higher than fifth in the top flight over the preceding decade and a half and with the wave of investment came a glut of titles.
The second division crown was almost a formality in the year they were purchased by Evergrande but what’s happened since is close to unprecedented in Asian football – six straight league titles (with a seventh very much in the offing this season), two FA Cups, two Super Cups and perhaps most impressively of all ACL titles in both 2013 and 2015.
The CSL and Guangzhou have come a long way in a short time.
That this success came with corresponding investment is hardly a surprise but what it did was force other clubs to try and match that spending and in turn over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen record transfers – both domestically and with forcing players – tumble time and again.
What is also did though was establish the template for decisions that seem to be made on the fly as the CFA in 2012 allowed Guangzhou to sign (in theory all ACL clubs but they were the only relevant team at the time) an additional two foreigners putting them at a clear advantage to other clubs in the domestic league.
Since then we’ve seen all sorts of rules and requirements come and go: players from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are counted as foreign players one year and then they’re not the next; clubs can have an AFC player slot then they can’t; clubs are allowed to splash out on big-name transfers then they’re levied with taxes; players can feature any number of youth players they like then they’re required to start one.
And so on and so – with rules not only changing post-season but also mid-season in a continuing muddle of regulation.
More confusing than all that though has been the avalanche of recent bans that in many cases have set the bar for inconsistency fairly low.
Although there is a long history of randomly framed bans, this season has really seen things ramp up – firstly there was Shanghai Shenhua defender Sun Shilin copping a two-match ban for giving a ‘thumbs up’ gesture at an opponent following a missed penalty and then the frankly inexplicable six-month punishment meted out to a player from the same club, Qin Sheng, for stomping on the foot of Belgian star Axel Witsel.
Last month’s whopping eight match ban brought down on Brazilian Oscar though potentially even tops that lunacy.
No love for Oscar.
The Shanghai SIPG forward was involved in an incident against Guangzhou R&F where he appeared to kick the ball deliberately at two different opponents – a move that sparked a wild all-in brawl that resulted in two reds for other players but not even a yellow for Oscar.
Whilst you can argue the malice and intent not only is there nothing other than vague regulations in the Laws of the Game that deal with this kind of incident, it’s staggering to think that the match officials on the day (and in a quirky aside no-one has also yet explained why the match referee didn’t have his official badge on) took no action, and yet the ‘offence’ be deemed worthy of such a hefty punishment.
That in turn led to a mini-protest by his teammates, Hulk and Wu Lei, who wore shirts at the club’s next match that read ‘nothing to do’ and ‘nothing to say’ which, somehow predictably, saw them summoned to CFA headquarters to explain their actions.
Whoever is in charge of handing out bans at the CFA then sat down and seemingly plucked another number out of the air in not only banning the players for two matches but also their Portuguese coach, Andre Villas-Boas, for two as well after he merely tweeted Oscar’s career record and the fact that he’d never received a red card with a ‘thumbs down’ emoji.
At least, they’ve set a clear benchmark that anything to do with thumbs (down or up) is a two-match ban after the earlier punishment for Sun!
Careful with your gestures, Hulk.
In many of the moves that the CFA is making there is a clear intent to be viewed ‘seriously’ by the international community and it often appears that the governing body is indeed more concerned with foreign rather than domestic reaction in their handing out of various punishments.
The reality is that it’s working against them as they continue to mete out not only widely excessive but also inconsistent punishments for incidents that often have even been dealt with by – occasionally badge-less – match officials.
If Chinese football and the CFA does indeed want to be treated with more significance by the international football community then it may be wise to come up with a published list of ‘guidelines’ concerning appropriate behaviour and any scale of fines or bans that result from indiscretions.
Otherwise we live week to week waiting to see what new system someone at the Beijing HQ will come up with depending on how they feel that particular day.