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    China, Korea And Japan Seasons Start With Spring In Their Steps

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    Ali Swaidan
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    China, Korea And Japan Seasons Start With Spring In Their Steps

    Post by Ali Swaidan on Thu Feb 26, 2009 6:08 pm




    The East Asian season is almost upon us – a time when leagues C, J and K kick-off and keep us entertained until the year is almost over. As much as the weather will change over the coming months, so will the emotions of fans from Tokyo to Seoul to Beijing and beyond.

    There is a slight sense of optimism around in the region despite the economic crisis. Some clubs have been more reluctant than usual to pay big bucks to Brazilians and have looked elsewhere to shape squads –whether to new transfer markets or to youth.

    On the face of it, the financial gloom has just added to the usual depression that surrounds Chinese football but in truth, the local league is not doing badly. There has been bad headline after bad headline in recent years and while the national team’s fortunes continue to plummet, there are signs of strength in the Chinese Super League.

    The much-publicised decision of Chinese national television to take the league off the air in 2008 made good copy but the fact that numerous stations will be broadcasting 2009 games hasn’t generated anything like the same column inches. Unlike some Asian nations, a sponsor for the league was found early.

    Talking to people inside Chinese football and the noises are similar. There is a hope, and increasingly an expectation, that the economic problems can help narrow the gap between the CSL and its more business dependent neighbours to the east.

    The 2008 season wasn’t bad at all and boasted an open and exciting title race. There has been a surprising amount of money spent in the close season, largely by those who missed out.

    Shanghai Shenhua, the team that had to settle for second but came so close, have been energetic in recruitment from both home and abroad.

    Owner Zhu Jun has spent over seven million dollars. A good chunk of that went on Australia’s Mark Milligan and Belarus star Vyacheslav Hleb – the brother of a certain Barcelona star. Chen Tao arrives from Changsa and is, along with Wang Xinxin, the most expensive domestic transfer of the winter.

    Wang went to Tianjin Teda, a team that has also been splashing the cash. He joins Australia’s Mark Bridge, Jean-Philippe Caillet from Belgium and Italian star Damiano Tommasi. Tianjin have been the bridesmaids of Chinese football for years but it looking to become a major player and the new signings have fans excited. Early ticket sales have been good.

    The money spent in China certainly exceeds that in the K-league. Even so, a number of Chinese stars can now be found in Asia’s oldest league and more are linked every day.

    The influx across the Yellow Sea as well as imports from Australia, Cameroon, Macedonia, Serbia, Guatemala and Japan mean that the Korean season looks to be an intriguing one. Many of the big teams look a little weaker or have changed so much that it is difficult to know what to expect.

    What looks to be intelligent buying by teams that usually reside in the middle reaches of the league could mean that it is a season of surprises – especially with the continental commitments of four of the top five teams from last season.

    Japan has seen some incredibly open title races in recent year but the league that was the first to introduce the ‘3 plus 1’ rule has been lax in actually doing anything with it. More Koreans than usual have moved across the East Sea but elsewhere, it has been the same old Brazilians.

    With some clubs such as Urawa Reds feeling the pinch of the credit crunch and trusting more to youth than in the past, Asian champions Gamba Osaka have been splashing the cash in a bid for domestic success.

    In one of the biggest moves of the winter, Korean striker Cho Jae-jin returns to the J-League along with compatriot and under-rated defender Park Dong-hyuk. Champions Kashima Antlers are going for a three-peat, seventh in total, and have tinkered little with their winning machine.

    How clubs deal with their continental commitments will be crucial. Urawa know better than anyone else how success abroad can cost at home. Not qualifying for the 2009 version could be the Reds’ best chance of success at home. Another open season looks to be on the cards.

    2008 was a fairly good year for all of the big three leagues. The special circumstances of 2009 as well as the expanded Asian Champions League looks set to make things more interesting and not less. It should be an exciting few months.

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